By Nathan Keil | Sports Editor
In 2017, Baylor softball headed west to Fullerton, Calif., for the Judi Garman Classic 14-3, without garnering much national attention. The Bears finished the tournament 4-1 with wins over ranked opponents — Arizona State, Michigan, Washington and UCLA.
This year, the narrative is in reverse. Baylor enters their West Coast trip 9-0, ranked eighth in the country and with two wins over ranked opponents, No. 23 McNeese State and No. 11 Alabama.
Despite those two wins, head coach Glenn Moore said he knows this tournament will be a large step up in competition and a consistent elevated competition.
“It’s a great opportunity to see how we match up with some of the best teams in the country, so a World Series-like atmosphere with World Series-caliber team,” Moore said. “Every year we know regardless of how the outcome is, we’re going to be a better team. We can play well and win two games. That’s how good the competition is out there. It’s an opportunity to get better.”
Baylor will match up with three ranked opponents in Fullerton. The Bears will meet No. 25 Michigan today before dealing with No. 2 and defending National runner-up Florida and Charlotte on Saturday. They will conclude the tournament with matchups with Iowa and No. 18 Louisiana-Lafayette on Sunday.
Senior first baseman Shelby Friudenberg found success in last year’s tournament and was able to build off it last season. She said the team is confident they can find repeat success this season.
“Knowing what we can do, we have the power to go out and do what we did last year and try to win every single game that we can there,” Friudenberg said. “It’s going to be really good competition, but it’s going to be good for us.”
One reason for that confidence is the pitching staff, led by junior Gia Rodoni. Rodoni is 5-0 with 0.50 ERA with three complete games and 39 strikeouts. Opponents are hitting just .116 off her this season. Both junior Regan Green and sophomore Goose McGlaun are 2-0 with ERAs under 3.00. Freshman Lexi Koltz has yet to allow an earned run in two appearances this season as well.
Junior catcher Carlee Wallace said she feels that regardless of who is in the circle, the Bears have a good chance to get the win.
“[I am] Extremely happy with the way we’re coming along. Gia is being Gia and that is great. Regan is coming along great. She’s going to be a really good asset for us,” Wallace said. “Lexi is going be effective and Goose has some great stuff. I enjoy catching all of them. I’m getting to know all of them. We have a great chance to win with every one of them.”
As impressive as the pitching has been early on for Baylor, its offense has been equally productive and efficient. Baylor is hitting .403 as a team and has three players in senior outfielder Jessie Scroggins, sophomore second baseman Nicky Dawson and Wallace all hitting above .500. McGlaun and junior outfielder Kyla Walker are hitting above .400.
However, despite the gaudy early numbers for the offense, Moore said it wouldn’t be realistic for him to expect those numbers this weekend.
“We’ve seen good arms, but not consistently like we’re going to see this weekend,” Moore said. “It would be unrealistic to expect our offense to hit those numbers out there this weekend. They can have a great weekend and not come close to those.”
After Baylor completes its Judi Garman Classic draw on Sunday, it will remain on the road for the next six days. The Bears will take on Long Beach State on Tuesday before flying across the country to participate in the Liberty Spring Classic in Lynchburg, Va. Baylor will see Liberty on Wednesday, play a doubleheader against Delaware and Ohio University Saturday and conclude with a Saturday doubleheader against Delaware and Liberty.
The spring road trip will mark a month straight of playing on the road away from Getterman Stadium, a challenge in and of itself, but one that Moore believes will benefit his team in the long run.
“I’ve always believed it’s necessary to toughen a team up a little bit,” Moore said. “There are challenges. You get tired of being around each other for that long; you have some adversity and you have to work through it. It makes you a better team in the long run.”
No. 8 Baylor opens its spring break trip with No. 25 Michigan at 2 p.m. today at Anderson Family Field in Fullerton, Calif. The game can be streamed on FloSoftball.