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RYAN'S SWAN SONG: Lady Bears Headed to A&M for Softball Regional

May 15, 2013

By Jerry Hill
Baylor Bear Insider

As part of the 2010 Baylor team that knocked off Georgia in a playoff in advancing to the NCAA Championship, Ryan O'Rear "knows what it feels like" to get there.

"There's not a better feeling," said O'Rear, a senior from Salado, Texas, who could be playing in his final collegiate tournament at the NCAA Pullman Regional that starts Thursday at Palouse Ridge Golf Club in Pullman, Wash. "And to do it the way we did - in a playoff, knocking off Georgia - it doesn't get any better than that."

Now, O'Rear wants his younger teammates to experience that same thing. The lone holdover from that 2010 team that tied for 25th at the NCAA Championships, O'Rear is joined in the lineup by sophomores Mikkel Bjerch-Andresen, Kyle Jones, Niclas Mansson and Filippo Zucchetti.

"I want the other guys to get there and feel that," he said. "I know what it feels like. I've been lucky enough to get there. So I want to make it back, not just for me, but for the other guys as well."

That experience could come in handy as the eighth-seeded and 49th-ranked Bears try to make it through the regional and advance to the NCAA Championships that will be held May 29 through June 2 in Atlanta, Ga.

Top-ranked California heads a 14-team field for the Pullman Regional that also includes 11th-ranked TCU, No. 12 USC, 24th-ranked St. Mary's, No. 25 Virginia Tech and No. 36 BYU.

"For him, I think the experience is a big deal," Baylor head coach Greg Priest said, "because these are different events. Playing in the Big 12, that's some pressure. But this one is different, because you know that you can either advance or your season ends. This will be his fourth regional, he's been in a national championship. Just drawing on that experience, the emotions, keeping your composure, all of those different things . . . I think he's helped this week of letting the guys know what to expect."

O'Rear has not exactly had the kind of senior season he was hoping for, posting a 74.52-stroke that ranks fifth on the team. But he tied for 10th in the fall at Duke's Rod Myer Invitational and opened with a solid round of 73 at the Big 12 Championships before back-to-back scores of 78.

"I feel like (my game) is a lot better right now than it has been all semester; probably the most prepared I've been coming in," said O'Rear, a three-time state champion at Salado. "I've spent a lot of time since conference working on my ball-striking. I did not hit it very well up there (at the Big 12 tournament). So, I'm still working on that. But I am swinging it better, which is nice."

More than any other player on Baylor's roster, O'Rear understands the do-or-die nature of the regional tournament. Since playing on the 2010 team that made it to nationals during his freshman year, he's been on teams that came up short the last two years at regionals in Florida and Michigan.

"Personally, I think it motivates me," said O'Rear, who tied for 65th individually at last year's regional in Ann Arbor, when the team finished 11th. "This potentially could be my last college tournament, and I definitely don't want that. I definitely keep that pressure on my mind as motivation, for sure."

Jones leads the team with a 72.56 average, three top-10 and seven top-25 finishes. Mansson is second at 73.22 and tied for seventh at the Big 12 Championship, while Bjerch-Andresen and Zucchetti has each posted four top-25 finishes.

"I know they get tired of hearing it, but you have to focus on one shot at a time," Priest said. "You can't think about the past, and you can't think about the future. You've got to get it down to one shot, and understand that you're going to hit some bad shots. But it's how we recover and being able to forget about it and move on. . . . We've played a good 36 holes, but being able to put 54 together is something that we haven't been able to do this year. Hopefully, we can draw back on all our experiences from the year and put it together this week."

Without putting it all on one round, Priest and O'Rear agreed that the first day is critical.

"You can pretty much shoot yourself out," O'Rear said. "And that's what we did last year. My freshman and sophomore years, we were in there pretty much every day and hung around. But you really can't afford to have a bad (opening) round, or you're going to shoot your way out of it."

Priest said the Bears, who won the Warrior Wave Intercollegiate in Hawaii and posted six other top-25 finishes, "just need to be in position to have a chance to make it on the last day."

"You can't win it on the first day, but you can dang sure put yourself in position where you can't," he said. "What I told them is the top five spots get out, but we can't focus on fifth. We have to focus on trying to win it. . . . We can't settle or put our sights on fifth place or just making the top five. We've got to set our sights on winning it. And I know I keep saying it, but if we put it all together, we can do it."

Due to graduate in December with a degree in marketing, O'Rear said he is "not ready to leave Baylor, but I'm ready to get the school part over with."

As far as his future golf plans, he says, "I'm not really sure yet. I probably won't do much semester until I finish up school. And then I'll make a decision after that."

Either way, though, he's not ready for his collegiate career to end this week.

"We just haven't all put it together at the same time," he said. "Everybody has been showing signs of doing it. We got a win in Hawaii, and we've had a lot of other top finishes. But we haven't really put it together for a full tournament. I definitely think it's coming."

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