From underdog to top dog: Baylor softball pushes for Women’s College World Series

Then-junior utility Emily Hott (left, 4) receives her bat from then-sophomore first baseman Shaylon Govan (12) on her way back to the dugout during No. 4 seed Baylor softball's first round game against No. 5 seed Iowa State as part of the Phillips 66 Big 12 Softball Championship on May 11 at USA Softball Hall of Fame Stadium in Oklahoma City. Michael Haag | Sports Editor

By Michael Haag | Sports Editor

Baylor softball isn’t waiting until the spring to determine what its goal is for the year. The Bears have their sights set on making it to the Women’s College World Series — something the program hasn’t done since 2017.

Senior catcher Sydney Collazos said the team finds all the motivation it needs when it heads out to center field at Getterman Stadium, where it displays the four years the program had a WCWS appearance (2007, 2011, 2014 and 2017). So, even though the fall is about intrasquad competition, the group collectively knows where the focus lies.

“Every day before practice, we’re coming out here and we’re all tapping that sign you see out in center field that has the Women’s College World Series dates,” Collazos said. “So, yes, we’re competing internally, but we still have the same goals in mind.”

Baylor is in a much different spot than it was a couple of years ago. In 2021, the Bears entered the season embracing an “underdog” role, just looking to compete in any game they could. Last year was when the green and gold turned a lot of heads, as it secured its first 40-win season in six years and upended six top-five foes — one of those coming against Oklahoma, the now three-time defending national champs. Baylor gave the Sooners (61-1) their only blemish of 2023 on Feb. 19 in Waco.

But the Bears won’t be sneaking up on anyone this spring, as they returned all but one member of last season’s team. Exactly 21 of 22 athletes from the 2023 squad are back for another crack at it, and Baylor was a program that was on the cusp of hosting the NCAA Regional Round.

That successful season impressed head coach Glenn Moore, especially since his group dealt with an overwhelming amount of injuries.

“Last year’s team proved what we’re capable of doing,” Moore said. “Our Achilles’ heel has been injuries. I mean, we finished the year fairly strong in spite of having some very key injuries even early and even in the fall, and [we] still competed against just about everybody we played in a big way.”

Baylor right-handed pitcher Dariana Orme, who’s entering her senior season in 2024, was one that had to be shut down late in the year. Orme hurled a conference-high 148 innings during the regular season after missing the fall of 2022 due to a right arm injury and nerve damage to her ribs. The Bears’ ace had to take on a bigger role following then-junior right-handed pitcher and infielder Aliyah Binford’s season-ending knee injury, which she suffered in late March.

Orme, a first-team all-region and second-team all-Big 12 pick, couldn’t limit her nagging injury and was able to have successful surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome over the offseason.

Moore did his best to describe the details back in May.

“From my understanding, they remove a portion of a rib to free up the nerve that’s being pinched and causing deadness in the arm,” Moore said. “She was getting shots that were allowing her to play pain-free, but there’s no guarantee those are going to work. We were hoping that holding her out would rest her and also allow her to get that feeling back in her arm to finish up … but we had to shut her down.”

Another key injury was when then-sophomore first baseman Shaylon Govan suffered a torn labrum in late March as well. Govan played through the shoulder pain and earned unanimous first-team All-Big 12 and first-team all-region honors after hitting a team-best .369 with 11 home runs and 54 RBIs.

The Bears were also without then-sophomore right-handed pitcher Ava Knoll for most of the year, and then-freshman utility Abbie Flores redshirted after missing the entire season due to back surgery.

Getting everyone back and healthy, as well as adding a trio of freshmen in infielder Leah Cran, right-handed pitcher Lexie Warncke and infielder Paige King, has Binford amped for the upcoming season.

“I cannot wait to play,” Binford said. “I can’t wait to see where this team’s going to go. We have so many different parts that just come together. It makes this team amazing, so it’s going to be awesome.”

With Baylor in the spotlight for 2024, Collazos said the team isn’t worried about a target being on its back. She said the squad keeps its own target on itself.

“We know, just as well as anybody, what kind of talent we have on this roster,” Collazos said. “So, instead of thinking, ‘Oh, we have to perform to meet the expectations of others,’ we’re performing to meet our own expectations, which is to get back on the Women’s College World Series stage.”

The Bears have four more events left on the fall exhibition schedule. They will play at 6 p.m. on Friday at McLennan Community College before hosting the Green & Gold World Series, an annual intrasquad set of games, Oct. 9-11. A pair of contests on Oct. 14 wraps up the slate, as Baylor will face Sam Houston in Huntsville and then North Texas in Spring.

Injury room:

  • Orme is “on schedule,” according to Moore. He said she should be “good to go in February.”
  • Binford is back at practice following successful knee surgery midway through the 2023 season. Moore said the staff is limiting her throughout the fall but that she looks healthy.
  • Govan is still nursing her shoulder after surgery, but Moore said she will be cleared to get back to practice this week. Govan will be limited, but she’ll slowly get back into doing drills and other activities, per Moore.
  • Flores is still dealing with some minor back soreness and discomfort, but Moore said he and the staff would test her over the weekend and see how she does.
  • Junior utility Shannon Vivoda missed this weekend’s exhibition games with a tweaked ankle, but Moore said it shouldn’t be too severe.