By Nathan Keil | Sports Editor
It was a tale of two games for Baylor softball as it opened NCAA Regional play Friday afternoon at Davis Diamond in College Station.
There was the first three innings where McNeese State was the far superior team—building an 8-0 lead, compiling timely hitting and capitalizing off Baylor defensive miscues.
Then there was the last four innings where Baylor cut an 8-0 deficit to 8-6 and then a 10-6 deficit to 10-9.
But a miscue in the field by sophomore Maddison Kettler at shortstop allowed the Cowgirls to score their 11th run of the game in the top of the seventh and some confusion on the bases helped McNeese State hold off Baylor 11-10 in game one of the College Station regional Friday afternoon.
After sophomore catcher Taylor Ellis singled to right field to cut the lead to 11-10, she then got caught up in between first and second base and was tagged out with the tying run at third base.
But for much of the game, it seemed impossible that Baylor could be one hit away from tying the game and two away from winning it.
Before the game even started, the odds were stacking up against the Lady Bears.
Senior Carlee Wallace was ruled out as she did not clear concussion protocol after being hit in the back of the head with a pitch in Baylor’s 6-4 loss to Oklahoma last weekend in the Phillips 66 Big 12 Tournament.
Wallace’s absence forced a defensive realignment, as Ellis moved from shortstop to catcher, Kettler moved from right field to shortstop and sophomore Madi O’Neal, who usually enters as a pinch-runner, played the entire game in right field.
Instead of starting with his ace, junior Gia Rodoni in the circle, Baylor head coach Glenn Moore went with fellow junior Regan Green—and McNeese State blitzed Green, batting around, while tallying five runs on six hits and taking advantage of a Baylor throwing error as well as a dropped fly ball in the outfield.
Moore said that the decision to go with Green was because of her effectivness against McNeese State the last time the two met in Waco, but he also said he knew it was risky.
“Reagan (Green) pitched well against them last time out. We decided to come in here high risk high reward, but we knew that it was a risk,” Moore said. “We tried to see if she could match them again. Maybe they prepared for the change up. We probably were overthinking it again. We didn’t consider that we had other pieces moving around with a new catcher, third baseman, and shortstop.”
The Cowgirls then went up 6-0 after a successful suicide squeeze bunt off Rodoni in the second. The third inning yielded more good results for McNeese State.
A leadoff single turned into a runner on third base with nobody out as junior left-fielder Kyla Walker misplaced the ball on a short hop, allowing it to roll all the way to the wall. Two more singles and a stolen base put the Cowgirls in front 8-0.
But in the fourth, the Lady Bears made some adjustments at the plate and began to show signs of life.
It began with sophomore second baseman Nicky Dawson, who got Baylor’s first hit of the game with a single to right field. Seniors, centerfielder Jessie Scroggins and first baseman Shelby Friudenberg each singled, with Friudenberg’s scoring Dawson, putting the Lady Bears on the board.
“I fully believe that hitting is contagious. We had to make adjustments, but I wish we would have made them sooner. In the end, we finally came together and got some things rolling,” Dawson said. “I think we should have come out a little stronger and put some more pressure on them, but those two innings were big for us. I think when we get going, we are hard to stop. If we have that same energy the entire game, I think we will be strong.”
After a walk, Kettler then drove in a run with a sacrifice fly to right field. O’Neal reached on a fielder’s choice, freshman designated player Hannah Thompson reached on an error, bringing in Baylor’s third run.
Ellis make it 8-4 with her sacrifice fly to center field.
McNeese State would add two more off Rodoni in the sixth inning. The Cowgirls led off the frame with a single and a double off the outstretched glove of O’Neal in right. A pair of sacrifice flies made it 10-4.
The Lady Bears would turn up the pressure in the bottom half of the sixth.
After the first two hitters were retired, O’Neal reached on a bunt single. Thompson then delivered a two-run home run to make it 10-6.
“I was just trying to get a base hit and get the offense going. She had been throwing me inside all game, so I just stepped off the plate a little to get the inside pitch. It came, and I just let loose,” Thompson said.
Ellis and Walker both reached base safely and Dawson delivered a two-run double to right-center, making it 10-8. Scroggins then singled home Dawson and took third as the throw was not cut off and made its way to the backstop behind home plate.
After the error in the top of the seventh extended McNeese State’s lead to 11-9, Ellis cut it to 11-10 before being tagged out to end the game.
Moore took the blame for making the call that ended the Baylor rally.
“I was overzealous and tried to out guess them a little bit by thinking they weren’t going to go after the runner with speed on third base. Then we were planning on trying to score on that if they did. It just didn’t work out,” Moore said. “Again, for the rest of my life, I will go through that one and regret making that decision with Kyla Walker in the box. I will take the blame of that one because the kids fought back hard. I am very proud of them, but we put ourselves in a huge hole initially. We fought back, but we can’t have that kind of hole.”
Both Green and Rodoni, who combined to go 2-1 against the Cowgirls during the regular season, struggled to make quality pitches and get outs when they needed them.
Green (11-5) lasted just 2/3 of an inning, allowing five runs on six hits. Rodoni went 6 1/3, allowing six runs, four earned on seven hits with three walks and five strikeouts.
Eight different Cowgirls drove in a run, while junior right fielder Justyce McClain was four for four with a walk and three runs scored.
Sophomore Alexsandra Flores (19-9) got the win, going 5 2/3 innings, allowing eight runs, five earned on six hits with a pair of walks.
After freshman Amber Coons came in and gave up a run on two hits, fellow freshman Caroline Settle entered and pitched the final 1 1/3, giving up one run on three hits, but earned the save.
Baylor (36-17) will take on Prairie View A&M at 4 p.m. Saturday. If the Lady Bears win, they will take on the loser of McNeese State and Texas A&M at 6:30 p.m.