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HANDLING THE HEAT: No Brette, No Turk, No Problem for Freshman Smith

May 17, 2013

By Jerry Hill
Baylor Bear Insider

Between Brette Reagan and Megan Turk, third base is a position that Baylor coach Glenn Moore didn't have to worry about during a magnificent seven-year run that included a pair of World Series appearances.

To fill those shoes, he turned to a freshman that had never even played third base.

"I had no idea where I was going to play, but I was thinking maybe somewhere in the outfield," said Sarah Smith, a freshman from Cerritos, Calif., who had played left field and some limited first base in high school and the Lakewood Firecrackers club team.

Adapting to the new position and being away from home, Smith described the fall semester as "rough." But all it took was a trip back home over the Christmas break. Moore said it was "almost as if a light bulb went on in her head and said, 'I know what Coach Moore is looking for.'''

"When I went home for Christmas, I worked with my old travel-ball coach and pretty much fielded the whole time," Smith said. "That first semester was kind of tough, being away from home and all of that. So, when I got back in my own element and I was able to field, my confidence grew. I knew I could do it."

And she definitely can. Through the first 53 games this season, Smith had zero turnovers, earning a spot on the Big 12 All-Defensive team.

Instead of her comfort zone in the outfield, Smith is sometimes positioned within breathing distance of the batter. They don't call it the "hot corner" for nothing.

"It's really scary," Smith said. "I have a mouth guard, so I'm not as scared as I used to be. I know if push comes to shove, I'll get my face out of the way before anything . . . if anything comes up at me, I'll get my face out of the way. You're just trying to stop it, because if anything gets down the line, it will probably be a double."

Even with the unusually high standards that Reagan and Turk established, Moore said Smith has "exceeded my expectations."

"We asked her to play a position she hasn't played," Moore said. "I don't think I could ask for a whole lot more. She's been consistent offensively and put up big numbers there; and just been solid on the corner, following two great third basemen that we had in Brette Reagan and Megan Turk. . . . The reflexes, the reactions on the corner there, it takes a unique person to be able to play that position in our sport. And she's just done a phenomenal job there."

Smith has also excelled at the plate, hitting .365 with five homers, seven doubles and 26 RBI with a .527 slugging percentage. In conference-only games, she led the Lady Bears in batting average (.346) and on-base percentage (.460).

"In California, on a good weekend, we constantly face upper 60s, pitchers that throw everything - drop, curve, screw, changeup," she said. "So, I was pretty much ready for this when I came here."

"We recruited her for her hitting ability," Moore said. "And she's not disappointed there, of course."

In addition to her All-Defensive honor, Smith was named the Big 12 Freshman of the Year and second-team All-Big 12.

"When I got to the locker room, I had about a thousand text messages before I even knew what was going on," she said. "It was pretty sweet."

Smith's only rough moment at third base came in last Sunday's 2-1, nine-inning loss to sixth-ranked Texas, when she committed a pair of errors in the first inning. After falling down trying to field a sacrifice bunt by the Longhorns' Brejae Washington, Smith failed to cover third on a pickoff attempt by catcher Claire Hosack.

"That last game was rough," said Smith, who had two of the Lady Bears' five hits off All-American pitcher Blaire Luna. "It was so disappointing. I knew (Hosack's throw) was coming to me; I could sense that it was coming to me before she even threw the ball. I don't know what was going on. It was that kind of a day."

That game actually gives Smith and the 16th-ranked Lady Bears (39-15) some confidence going into the NCAA College Station Regional. Baylor faces Arizona (34-22) at 4:30 p.m. Friday in a first-round game at the Aggie Softball Complex, while No. 16 national seed Texas A&M (39-15) takes on Penn (30-18) at 7 p.m.

"We can handle anybody, even on an off day, as you can see," Smith said. "Just imagine how we'll be when we're all on, all playing our game. Whitney (Canion) pitched a heck of a game. We were just falling apart out there. . . . Nobody expects us to win. I just want to go in there and show them what we've got, because I know we can do it."

Baylor's all-time leader with 1,149 strikeouts, Canion (23-8, 1.63) will start Friday's game and "get us as far as we can go from here on out," Moore said.

"I think it's going to be a good matchup, whether they're going to play the short game or the long ball, or whatever it is," said Canion, who pitched the Lady Bears to the 2011 World Series before suffering a season-ending knee injury last year. "I just have to hit my spots and know that my defense is behind me, and really just work ahead on all the batters. I think if I'm doing that, that's when I'm at my best."

Arizona, which struggled to a seventh-place finish and 9-15 record in Pac-12 play, hit .291 as a team and has some big weapons in the lineup. Hallie Wilson is an all-conference leadoff hitter that's batting .371 with seven homers and 22 RBI, while catcher Chelsea Goodacre is hitting .343 with a team-high 17 homers and 58 RBI. Shelby Babcock is 16-10 with a 3.68 ERA and 130 strikeouts in 169.1 innings.

"I think their strength is probably their offense; and they play good defense as well," Moore said. "They've struggled a little in the circle, but they have three hard-throwing righties that bring it in the upper 60s. They're very capable of pitching great ball. They've just had some problem with consistency, as we have this year. . . . If you go back and look at the last seven or eight games, you'll see the Arizona that everybody expects."

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