By Matthew Soderberg | Sports writer
Baylor softball will begin its season in Clearwater, Fla., at the NFCA Lead Off Classic. The five-game series will feature matchups with No. 23 Auburn, Louisville, Missouri, Missouri State and an exhibition with the U.S. National Team.
After the squad missed the postseason for the first time in the past nine years, the team is looking toward a return this season. The Big 12 coaches picked the Lady Bears fifth in the preseason conference poll, and senior catcher Taylor Ellis said they’re ready for a fresh start.
“We’re excited to turn a new page,” Ellis said. “I think a lot of us are just feeling energized and ready to go, ready to get a better taste in our mouth this year.”
Baylor returns 19 players from last year’s team, including six starters. They also bring back three athletes who return from injury this season — fifth-year senior pitcher Gia Rodoni, fifth-year senior outfielder Kyla Walker and junior fielder Maddison Kettler.
Baylor sophomore infielder Lou Gilbert said the team has to improve this season for the seniors.
“We’re really stoked about this year and just, like, turning around and having the best year we can for our seniors and the other upperclassmen,” Gilbert said. “I know we’ve got some really great leaders this year, and they’ve really stepped up and made it clear that their last year is going to be their best year.”
The Lady Bears start the season against a ranked opponent for the second year in a row after beating No. 9 South Carolina to open the season last year. Head coach Glenn Moore, now in his 20th season with the squad, said the team doesn’t shy away from a tough schedule.
“Last year … we had two wins against ranked teams and a very good game against Washington, so I think that’s fairly equal to this,” Moore said. “We like to play tough competition, and … there’s plenty of tournaments that will give you, whether it’s World Series and certainly NCAA Regional-type teams, and we’re going to choose to go there as often as possible.”
Moore also emphasized the importance of the matchup with the U.S. National Team on Saturday afternoon. He said the game will be a good way for the team to show respect to the nation’s colors, and Baylor will be presenting their opponents with green and gold armbands as gifts.
“It’s an honor to compete against them, but also to prepare them to compete for our country,” Moore said. “We’re just going to treat it as an honor to be on the same field with a team that’s wearing red, white and blue and look at it more like that rather than the individuals that are playing … It’s our job to help them get better.”
The five-game weekend will begin at 11 a.m. today at the Eddie C. Moore Complex against Auburn, followed by a 1:30 p.m. matchup with Louisville. All games at the Lead Off Classic will be streamed on the NFCA Youtube channel by Sportzcast.