No. 22 Baylor softball plunges forward with brutal schedule, Mary Nutter Classic

Junior outfielder Ana Watson (22) takes a swing at a pitch during then-No. 19 Baylor softball's game against No. 2 Tennessee in Waco. Assoah Ndomo | Photographer

By Michael Haag | Sports Editor

No. 22 Baylor softball is walking into the Mary Nutter Classic as arguably the most tested program in the country.

Sitting on that pedestal is the result of opening the season with two-straight series against ranked opponents — one of them being versus the No. 2 team in the country. Stout competition isn’t going away any time soon, as the Bears are set to play five games across three days in the Mary Nutter Classic in Palm Springs, Calif.

Three of those contests will be against ranked opponents, and this tough schedule is exactly what head coach Glenn Moore wanted for his squad.

“That’s the beauty of playing tough teams, is you go out there to a tournament like this and you’re not big-eyed thinking, ‘We’ve never seen real pitching,’” Moore said. “We’ve already seen really good pitching. I told the girls that I don’t think we’ll see anybody that we’re wowed by, compared to Tennessee and Louisiana.”

Baylor (3-3) will face No. 25 Oregon at 7 p.m. CT on Thursday before it squares off with Notre Dame directly after at approximately 9:30 p.m. CT. Then the Bears take on UC Riverside at 10:30 p.m. CT on Friday for their only contest of the day.

Baylor will wrap up the Mary Nutter Classic on Saturday with ranked matchups against No. 19 UCLA at 7:30 p.m. CT and No. 13 Missouri at 10 p.m. CT.

All three of the Bears’ losses so far this year have come against ranked foes, and junior infielder Shaylon Govan said this type of February schedule bodes well for the big picture of the season.

“Going through Big 12 [play] is very competitive,” Govan, who went 9-for-14 at the plate last week, said. “[The schedule is] allowing us to grow as a team so that we can be successful in conference and in May when it counts.”

Junior infielder Amber Toven said she doesn’t even pay attention to whether an opponent is ranked or not.

“I think we have just as much talent as everyone else does,” Toven said of Baylor’s current roster, which returned 21 members of a 40-win team. “I think we have Women’s College World Series potential, and I know I’m ready to showcase it with my teammates this weekend in one of the biggest tournaments in college softball.”

This weekend is the Bears’ first trip back to the Mary Nutter Classic since the 2022 season, when they won two games and lost two games. Baylor is coming off a series win at then-No. 23 Louisiana. The Bears dropped the season opener 4-1 on Friday before picking up back-to-back wins in a doubleheader on Sunday.

Baylor recorded 32 hits as a team on the week — which also included a 3-2 win at McNeese on Thursday — and saw sophomore right-handed pitcher RyLee Crandall pick up a pair of wins and a save with a 0.72 ERA in the circle. Crandall appeared in three of the four contests last week and recorded six strikeouts, while only allowing one earned run through 9.2 innings of work.

Moore said this year’s team features a lot of depth, which could be key this weekend with five games in three days. He added that it’s not as simple as people may think when having lots of different options at his disposal.

“The struggle is finding the right combination, where you want to put your speed, who’s hitting behind who and make the right decision there,” Moore, who is in his 24th season at Baylor, said. “It’s fun because you do have options, but it’s a constant challenge.”

The Mary Nutter Classic will give Moore and his staff more chances to see who belongs in the lineup, as well as allow a few of their athletes to play close to home. The Bears have four California natives on the team, including Toven, who’s particularly excited.

“I’ve been talking about this with my family forever,” Toven, who transferred from Arizona prior to the 2023 season, said. “I’ve actually been going to the Mary Nutter since I was 10 years old. My sister was playing there with Long Island University. It’s kind of full circle to be back.”

Moore added that a tournament like this helps convince those families to send their athletes to Waco to play for Baylor.

“If we’re going to recruit out there, we have to take these kids back home and get them to play around family and give their families an opportunity to drive and see them play,” Moore said. “And there will be a large contingent of Californians coming to see our girls play.

“It’s always fun to have family there and let them spend some time getting to see their mom and dad.”

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.