BY DJ Ramirez | Sports Editor
While the waters are still murky, the Baylor baseball and softball seasons are still on the horizon, as both squads continue to prepare for Opening Day despite the uncertainty still in the air.
With an abundance of experienced players coming back thanks to an extra year of eligibility and a lot of new talent to add into the mix, both baseball head coach Steve Rodriguez and softball head coach Glenn Moore said their teams are excited to get started.
Targeting That Postseason Comeback
The last time Baylor softball made a postseason run, Nicky Dawson was a sophomore. Now returning for her fifth year on the team after the cancellation of the 2020 season, the Lady Bears’ middle infielder said the main goal this year is to get there once again.
“With that season being short, I think we’re talking about two or three classes that haven’t experienced postseason,” Dawson said. “My sophomore year, we went to the A&M regional, and then everybody that’s come in after that hasn’t gotten to experience anything outside of regular competition. So, to get them to see something that’s a little bit different, with a different fan base, a different mentality of playing, that’s what we want to do for them.”
Baylor softball was on a roll last season, coming off a lackluster 2019 where they were mostly young and inexperienced and had to go on without its ace pitcher. But with redshirt senior Gia Rodoni back in the circle in 2020, as well more pitching power from the likes of Sidney Holman-Mansell and Aliyah Binford, the Lady Bears racked up a 19-5 record during the short season which included a 14-game win streak.
Baylor returns everyone from last year’s squad, except for outfielder Kyla Walker, who opted out of her extra year of eligibility, but the team also welcomed in some new talent that head coach Glenn Moore said brings a lot of depth they didn’t have before.
“It’s nice to have depth and versatility we don’t typically have,” Moore said. “The problems it poses are good problems. More competition for playing time develops the talent a little more. People work a little bit harder, I think, but certainly, it gives us more options.”
The Lady Bears already have a full schedule in the works that Moore said would be released soon. Baylor softball will kick off its season on Feb. 12 against Missouri State and the University of Louisiana-Lafayette; a three-team double round-robin hosted by the Ragin’ Cajuns in Lafayette, La.
Locked and Loaded
Baylor baseball may not have a complete schedule yet, but the Bears are more than ready to finally get to play someone other than themselves. Head coach Steve Rodriguez said he was impressed with the way his players have been preparing as Feb. 19 draws closer.
“Our guys have been out here for a handful of days now, just doing some individual work,” Rodriguez said. “But I’ll tell you what, they came back in great shape. Actually, I’m pleasantly surprised with how good of shape they’re in … That kind of gets me excited. Just knowing the seriousness with which they’re taking it is impressive.”
Right now, the Bears know what’s coming down the road in terms of conference play. The Big 12 schedule had been set for a while with Baylor opening conference at home against No. 9 Texas from March 19-21. They will also compete in the Round Rock Classic in Round Rock from Feb. 26-28 against Texas A&M, Auburn and Oklahoma.
“Our schedule itself has been completely redone. With travel restrictions and just COVID protocols, it’s been completely revamped,” Rodriguez said. “So, we’ve had to start from scratch. The past three weeks, that’s what I’ve been doing.”
While most of the non-conference schedule is yet to be known, LSU baseball did announce Friday that it added a game against the Bears on March. 13 in Baton Rouge at Alex Box Stadium. Baylor last faced the Tigers during the 2020 Shriners Classic Tournament in Houston, where Baylor made a late inning comeback to defeat LSU 6-4, with big contributions at the plate by Chase Wehsener, Nick Loftin and Ricky Martinez and a stellar closing performance by Luke Boyd.
The Bears return several fifth-year seniors, including veteran catcher Andy Thomas, as well as a lot of their bullpen. Rodriguez also gave a lengthy list of talented newcomers that could see the lineup this season, especially with the uncertainty that COVID-19 brings to the table. Overall, the head coach is optimistic about what the 2021 season will bring.
“I’m very optimistic with our guys and kind of how they went about their business in the fall,” Rodriguez said. “Once we started our team practice, we didn’t have any positive cases or contact tracing or anything like that. We’re going to be fine in regards to our season, there’s no doubt about that.”