Binford’s two-way play leads No. 4 seed Baylor softball over No. 5 seed UCF 3-2

The Bears celebrate junior utility Aliyah Binford's solo home run, which came in the bottom of the second inning. Michael Haag | Sports Editor

By Michael Haag | Sports Editor

OKLAHOMA CITY — Junior utility player Aliyah Binford kept it real after hurling her fifth complete game in her last seven appearances.

“I’m tired,” Binford said with a laugh.

Binford contributed in the circle and in the batter’s box to lead No. 4 seed Baylor softball past No. 5 seed UCF by a score of 3-2 in the quarterfinal round of the Phillips 66 Big 12 Softball Tournament on Thursday night at OGE Field at Devon Park.

It marked the Bears’ first win in a Big 12 Tournament game since 2018, and they’ll face top-seeded Texas in the semifinal round at 7:30 p.m. on Friday at the same venue.

Binford, a righty, held the Knights to two earned runs on six hits and one walk as part of her eighth complete game of the season. She gave herself run support by crushing an opposite field solo home run — her first homer of the year — in the bottom of the second inning.

“She was outstanding [on] both sides of the plate,” Bears head coach Glenn Moore said. “I thought that may have been the best game I’ve ever seen her pitch.”

Junior right-handed pitcher Aliyah Binford put together her eighth complete game of the season on Thursday. Michael Haag | Sports Editor
Junior right-handed pitcher Aliyah Binford put together her eighth complete game of the season on Thursday. Michael Haag | Sports Editor

Binford (12-10) flung two complete games in Baylor’s (32-19) series sweep of the Knights (30-23) back in April. She held UCF’s offense to one earned run on seven hits that weekend, and she totaled 13 strikeouts. Binford, who still leads the Big 12 by a large margin with 142 strikeouts, added 10 more on Thursday.

“She is fearless,” Knights head coach Cindy Ball-Malone said. “I think just her mentality alone, like we took a couple of her pitches, hit them pretty hard, even some of her better pitches — and then she’s like ‘So what?’ And gets back out there.”

Binford said her teammates motivated her when late adversity hit. UCF blasted a two-run bomb to tie the game at 2-2 in the bottom of the sixth, and the Bears responded with a run in the bottom half, which allowed Binford to shut the door in the top of the seventh.

“They said ‘We got you, keep going,’” Binford said. “So I did; I did it for them.”

Junior first baseman Shaylon Govan and senior outfielder Taylor Strain joined Binford with respective RBI knocks, but Govan mustered the go-ahead rip up the middle in the bottom of the sixth to give the Bears the ultimate edge.

Govan, who leads the nation in on-base percentage, finished 2-for-3 at the plate after being walked seven-straight times last weekend against Houston. She said Thursday’s win was “for the seniors,” as they remember most the sting of last year’s Big 12 Tournament loss to Iowa State.

“They’re able to breathe now,” Govan quipped.

Senior utility Sydney Collazos was the only other Bear to have two hits, as she went 2-for-2 at the dish and scored a run.

Baylor will now face the No. 1 team in the country for the seventh time this season, those contests split between the Longhorns and Oklahoma Sooners. The Bears have played 11 total contests against teams currently in the top five of the latest Softball poll.

Moore said he and the team view their semifinal matchup with Texas as an “opportunity,” and Govan added that “it’s going to take every single one of us” to pull off an upset.

The team mentioned on Wednesday that they feel good about their chances at hosting a Regional with a win over the Horns.

“They’re a great team,” Govan said of Texas. “It’s going to take all the little things, it’s going to take us putting bunts down, playing clean defense, hitting with two outs — it’s going to take everything in us to do it well.”

First pitch is set for 7:30 p.m. on Friday, and it can be watched on Big 12 Now on ESPN+ or listened to on 104.9 FM radio. Texas run-ruled Texas Tech earlier on Thursday and has scored double-digit runs in its last four games. The Longhorns swept the Bears in conference play in April.

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.