Baylor softball hits the road to Vegas for Rebel Kickoff, season-opener

The Baylor softball team going through hitting drills during a team practice. Photo courtesy of Baylor Athletics

By Michael Haag | Sports Editor

Baylor softball head coach Glenn Moore has seen a lot in his 22 years with the green and gold. As Moore and the Bears gear up for the Rebel Kickoff, he said he’s expecting plenty of laughs on this road trip.

“This bunch makes me happy to come to work every day,” Moore said. “And I love the sponges that they are. A lot of comedy with this group. I think the bus rides are going to be exciting this year; there’s no telling what will happen. They’ll keep me on my toes.”

The tournament begins on Friday hosted by the University of Nevada, Las Vegas in the Eller Media Stadium. The entire event can be watched on the UNLV Rebel Kickoff’s YouTube live stream.

Baylor has been back at practice for a few weeks now, but junior outfielder McKenzie Wilson said she’s ready to play something other than intrasquad games.

“It can get old real quick,” Wilson said. “I know I’m excited, and the rest of my teammates are excited just to compete against other people and wear Baylor across our chests proudly.”

Moore called this team “young, but with experience” a few weeks ago and returned 13 athletes from the 2022 squad. He said this group is 13 deep and that it will lead to increased depth throughout the season.

Junior utility Emily Hott said the increased talent of this team has been eye-opening for her so far.

“In my four years, this is probably one of the best teams I’ve been on,” Hott said. “It’s probably real close or right behind my freshman year, and I think we can even be better than them.”

With so much talent on the diamond, Moore said he’ll have to figure out which nine athletes will make the starting lineup. He said while it’s nice to have a multitude of starting-caliber players, the ones that are truly capable will emerge from the pack.

“It’s kind of up to them to decide,” Moore said. “If we have to go through the whole year with 13 starters, we feel pretty good about it, as long as the attitudes are good. But I think the cream usually rises to the top, separating themselves from each other eventually. It’s the intensity of the game that does that. It’s the strong competition.”

Hott said having those replacements ready to go will be huge later in the season when fatigue and cold stretches come into play.

“The more starters you have on your team, the better you’re going to be because it’s a long season,” Hott said. “People are going to get in slumps. If you have three people on the bench you can look to, and they come in, you want to make sure your team caliber is as high as possible. What else can you want.”

The Bears’ first game of the tournament is scheduled for Friday at 10 a.m. against Southern Utah University. Moore said junior right-handed pitcher Dariana Orme will be the starter, despite her missing the fall slate due to a nerve issue in her ribs.

Moore also said Orme will be on a limited pitch count to see how she looks.

“We’ll see her for several innings early in this tournament and then see how she recovers from that,” Moore said. “Probably give her Saturday off, and I’ll see about using her again on Sunday.”

This weekend marks the fifth-straight season Baylor will have begun its season on the road, with the team being 3-1 in that stretch.

Following the game against Southern Utah, the Bears will face Weber State University on Friday at 1:30 p.m., Southern Utah again on Saturday at 4 p.m. and UNLV on Saturday at 9 p.m.

The final contest is scheduled for Sunday at 11 a.m. versus No. 7 University of Arkansas. All game times are central standard and can be livestreamed on YouTube.

Wilson said her and the team aren’t rolling with the “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” mantra for this tournament. She said the squad is ready to showcase what it’s capable of.

“What happens in Vegas this time around probably won’t stay in Vegas,” Wilson said. “We’re going to make a lot of noise and start some conversations of what Baylor softball is about.”