Softball begins climb back to the top as underdog

Baylor softball takes a lap around the field before practice Tuesday at Getterman Stadium. The Lady Bears were ranked No.5 in the Big 12 Preseason Poll. DJ Ramirez | Sports Editor

By DJ Ramirez | Sports Editor

Baylor softball isn’t used to being anywhere near the bottom of the totem pole.

Yet with four Women’s College World Series appearances and 13 NCAA regional appearances in the last 15 years, head coach Glenn Moore and his team were put through the ringer in 2019. The Lady Bears finished the year with a 18-31 overall record and missed the postseason for only the third time in the last 16 years.

But according to Moore, that adversity is why this year’s squad is going to be better than ever.

“It was a tough year of course dealing with one [injury] right after another,” Moore said. “Plenty of reasons to bail and they never did. They fought. The win-loss column doesn’t look like we had much success last year but I think the story is yet to be told. I think this year we’ll benefit from the adversity that we survived last year… I’m very proud of the way the girls finished the year and the way they worked and motivated them. I think winners will be motivated by that type of adversity.”

Not only will Baylor be motivated by the hardships of last season, but also by being named No. 5 in the Big 12 Preseason Poll, a spot they are not used to being in. Usually in the No. 2 spot behind Oklahoma, the league’s perennial powerhouse, the Lady Bears are looking to fight their way back to the top.

“That’s just pure motivation,” graduate pitcher Gia Rodoni said. “That’s all I can really say about that. It just keeps us hungry and humble.”

Rodoni, who was one of the key pieces of Baylor’s postseason run in 2017 and 2018, is one of the players returning from injury along with graduate outfielder Kyla Walker. It was a hard season for both veterans, who had to watch their team go through struggles on the field. Walker said the most difficult part was figuring out how to help her team from the bench.

“It was really hard to watch,” Walker said. “I’m on the sidelines and I really couldn’t do anything to really change it or help it so it was really tough to go through. I did the best I could just trying to lead the team on the sideline but it’s hard when you’re not out there and going through it with them.”

The adversity Baylor had to go through will be an advantage to this year’s squad, according to Moore. Had Rodoni, who has thrown three post season no-hitters during her Baylor career, and Walker, who holds the program’s career batting average record with a .422 clip, not been injured and received medical redshirts, the program would be going through more of a rebuild this season.

Not only are the graduates back, but so is most of last year’s team, plus five freshmen that could make a major impact, particularly utility player Emily Hott and pitcher/infielder Aliyah Pritchett.

“We got a good group of leaders and upperclassmen that have been through the fire from both sides,” Moore said. “They’ve experienced a World Series and they’ve experienced the bottom of the valley as well. Having been on both ends of the spectrum. I think it gives them a great perspective on how to lead.”

The Lady Bears will be tested right away, starting the season with a game against Auburn in the Lead Off Classic on Feb. 7 in Clearwater, Fla. The tournament includes matchups with Louisville, Missouri, Missouri State and the U.S. National team. Baylor will then play its first home game against Abilene Christian on Feb. 11 and host the Getterman Classic from Feb. 14 to Feb. 16.