Upperclassman returners lead Baylor softball through fall slate ahead of 2024

Then-junior outfielder McKenzie Wilson (21) keeps her eye on the ball and gloves a line drive in center field during the Bears’ championship game of the Baylor Invitational against Minnesota on Feb. 26 at Getterman Stadium. Kenneth Prabhakar | Photo Editor

By Michael Haag | Sports Editor

Baylor softball head coach Glenn Moore said it’s unusual and refreshing to have 21 of 22 athletes return from last year’s roster.

On one hand, Moore said he doesn’t have to be as technical with his instruction during the fall. The players can lead the team themselves in a lot of ways. And for the three freshmen Moore brought in, he said they’re being mentored by “kids that have done everything we’ve asked them to do.”

That’s the refreshing part of it. Having such a similar roster to a year ago is still strange to Moore, as he said you don’t find that many places across the country. With the addition of the transfer portal and NIL, it’s become harder to retain talent as well as recruit it.

Moore said he attributes the strong return rate to the culture in place. Moore, who coached four Baylor teams to the Women’s College World Series, said the vibe around the team is the best he’s ever experienced.

“And I’ve had some good teams,” Moore said. “I think culture, by the way, is the character of your team. It just so happens that we have great leadership.”

The head coach entering his 24th season mentioned seniors right-handed pitcher Dariana Orme and outfielder McKenzie Wilson as being veteran leaders this fall. Moore also threw junior infielder Shaylon Govan into that mix as well, saying the three of them have hit their stride.

Orme was Baylor’s ace in 2022, as she was a first-team all-region and second-team All-Big 12 pick. She still managed to pitch a conference-leading 148.0 innings after coming back from a right-arm injury as well as nerve damage to her ribs.

Govan’s first year as a Bear came in 2022 after she transferred from Stephen F. Austin. The unanimous first-team All-Big 12 selection played through a torn labrum and hit a team-best .396 with 11 home runs and 54 RBIs.

Wilson plays in center field for Moore and often bats in the leadoff spot. She had the third best batting percentage (.326) on the team and led the squad in runs scored (53). Wilson had a team-best 59 hits and two triples.

Moore brought Wilson in from Fresno State ahead of the 2022 season. Wilson was part of what Moore called a “rebuilding year” in 2022 in which the team went 32-24 overall and missed the NCAA Tournament. The Long Beach, Calif. native was also a part of the major bounce back, a 2023 season that saw the Bears win 40 games for the first time since they made the WCWS in 2017.

Baylor had six wins over top-five foes, including the only victory over three-time defending national champion Oklahoma. But injuries to Orme, Govan and others derailed the team from making a deep run in its NCAA Regional in Salt Lake City.

“We had some wins that let us know that this wasn’t just a one win accidental thing,” Moore said. “We were very capable of having gone much further in [the] postseason had we been healthy.”

Bringing nearly everyone back and getting athletes healthy gives this squad a chance to “run it back.” However, Wilson said she and her teammates want to be able to learn and grow, rather than fixate on running it back with the same mindset.

“It’s more of ‘let’s build off of what we did last year,’” Wilson said.

Baylor was on the cusp of hosting an NCAA Regional, but a loss to Iowa State in the Big 12 Tournament added a ugly blemish on the team right before Sunday Selection. Wilson said this fall has been super competitive given the team’s motivation to not only replicate last year’s success, but do even better.

A big part of that inspiration is player-led, Wilson said.

“In that sense, it’s almost like you’re letting the team down when a player is able to hold you accountable in that perspective,” Wilson said. “I also think that the players have this motivation within, this intrinsic motivation, [that] this is the year Baylor softball is back.”

The Bears wrapped up their fall slate on Oct. 14, and they were able to play against an excess of other schools. Moore said the fall is mostly about intrasquad competition, getting healthy and fine-tuning things before the spring. However, he was really pleased with what he saw in the box from his hitters.

“I saw potentially one of the strongest offenses that we’ve had in years,” Moore said.

Baylor hit .298 as a team last year and returned all four of its athletes that hit right at or over .300 a year ago. Wilson said that strong attack paired with the fact that they’re battle tested means this team can go as far as it wants to.

“The sky’s the limit for this team,” Wilson said. “Man, we’re not afraid of anyone.”

Moore and Wilson said the early portion of Baylor’s spring schedule will include a rematch with Tennessee. Two of the Bears’ top-five wins last year came against the Volunteers in Knoxville, Tenn., so both Moore and Wilson are expecting a tough test in a few months.

Moore said he’s scheduling a tough slate for his athletes since they had such a strong year in 2022. He said he wants to make sure they’re tested so that they can make a deeper run in the NCAA Tournament.

Wilson said she’s pumped to get back out there in the spring and start the year off against one of the best teams in the country.

“Last year we kind of took it to Tennessee — not kind of — we did,” Wilson said. “And so they’re going to be coming in hungry and that’s always the mentality at practice. It’s like Tennessee is coming into our house, and how are we going to continue to prepare for when that day comes?”

Baylor hasn’t announced its spring schedule yet, so stay tuned for all updates @BULariatSports on X, formerly known as Twitter.

Michael Haag is a third year Journalism student from Floresville, a small town about 30 miles south of San Antonio. Haag is entering his third year at the Lariat and is hoping to continue developing his sports reporting skill set. After graduation, he plans to work on a Master’s degree in Journalism in order to one day teach at the college level. He does, however, plan on becoming a sports reporter for a publication after grad school.