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FUELED BY FRESHMEN: Lady Bears Stay Alive With 8-4 Win over Arizona

May 19, 2013

By Jerry Hill
Baylor Bear Insider

COLLEGE STATION, Texas - Bouncing back from a heartbreaking and shocking 6-5 walk-off loss to Texas A&M, Baylor softball coach Glenn Moore turned to a freshman to keep the Lady Bears alive in the College Station Regional.

And Heather Stearns responded with one of her best performances of the year, holding tradition-rich Arizona to just one earned run on six hits and two walks with eight strikeouts as Baylor advanced to Sunday's championship game with an 8-4 victory over the Wildcats.

"I was asked earlier why I chose to go with a freshman, and I think everybody saw that tonight. She can pitch," Moore said of Stearns (11-4), who had not pitched in two weeks. "She's going to win a lot of games for us here at Baylor. To get her first regional win against the University of Arizona, that's a big deal."

Baylor (41-16) will play A&M (41-15) in Sunday's 2:30 p.m. championship game at the Aggie Softball Complex, needing to win the if-necessary game as well to advance to the Super Regional round, most likely at top-ranked Oklahoma.

"We're here on a mission, and we're not done until we finish it," said sophomore shortstop Jordan Strickland, who was 5-for-8 for the day.

The Lady Bears' 11-hit attack against Arizona (33-26) was also led by freshmen, with Linsey Hays and Sarah Smith hitting back-to-back two-run doubles in a four-run second inning, combining for five hits and five RBI and scoring two runs.

"This weekend, we've done a really good job of even when we get down, we stay confident," said Hays, who was 3-for-4 with three RBI, a pair of doubles and two runs scored in the win over the Wildcats. "We relied on every part of the lineup. I give credit to the top of the lineup. Kathy (Shelton) and Holly (Holl) were getting on base, as well as everyone else in the lineup, and that allowed me to knock in some runs."

Arizona, which stayed alive with a 3-2, eight-inning win over Penn, struck first with two runs in the first on a bloop single by Kelsey Rodriguez and a sacrifice fly by Brigette Del Ponte.

But after leaving the bases loaded in the top of the first, the Lady Bears answered with four two-out runs in the second.

Robin Landrith, who reached on a fielder's choice grounder, was held at third base on a single to center by Holl. But that decision paid off when Hays followed with a two-run double off the right-field wall that tied it up at 2-2.

Smith followed suit with a two-run shot off the top of the wall in center, staking Stearns to a 4-2 lead.

"One of the big things we ask of our girls is to respond when something happens negatively to respond," Moore said. "I think every time they scored, we scored in the next inning. That was big. We kept their momentum from building. They're a team that can do a lot of damage if they get hot."

Almost on cue, the Wildcats tied it back up with a pair of doubles by Chelsea Goodacre and Del Ponte in a bizarre third inning.

Del Ponte's double to left-center scored Goodacre, with the tying run coming across on Strickland's error on the relay throw home. But when Del Ponte tried to come all the way around to score, Stearns took a short toss from catcher Bailey Chalmers and tagged her out at the plate.

Baylor came right back with two runs off Shelby Babcock (16-12) in the top of the fourth with three walks and a two-out, two-run single by Strickland that glanced off third baseman Lauren Young's glove and trickled into left field.

"You're not going to win many games by walking nine batters," said Arizona coach Mike Candrea. "When we tied the game at four, the thing you need is someone to come out and respond on the mound and shut them out and give you a chance. But we haven't had that all year, so it's kind of hard to expect it right now at this time of the year."

While Stearns got in a groove, retiring 11 in a row at one point, Baylor tacked on a run in the sixth on a leadoff single by Kaitlyn Thumann and a sac fly by Claire Hosack for her fifth RBI of the day. And then Hays gave the Lady Bears a four-run cushion with an RBI double to left-center that plated Landrith.

Working around a pair of two-out singles by the Wildcats, Stearns struck out Chelsea Suitos with the potential tying run on deck.

"The first two or three innings were a little rough when I was settling in," said Stearns, who picked up her first win since April 12. "My nerves were running a little bit since I was facing a very good Arizona team. But toward the fourth or fifth inning, I feel like I settled in pretty well. . . . It felt good knowing I Had this defensive behind me, and they were behind me 100 percent."

Hays said she wasn't surprised by Stearns' clutch pitching performance in the circle.

"We have all the confidence in the world in Heather," Hays said. "She's done a great job coming in as a freshman. We're all so proud of her."

Texas A&M 6, Baylor 5: Through the first 5 2/3 innings of Saturday's second-round game, Baylor ace Whitney Canion looked as dominant as ever, throwing a three-hit shutout and cruising with a 5-0 lead.

But in the span of eight batters, an explosive Aggie hitting attack came alive with a two-run homer by Mel Dumezich in the sixth, a game-tying three-run shot by Calli Lanphear in the seventh and a walk-off solo blast to right by Nicole Morgan for a stunning 6-5 victory before a crowd of 1,392.

"Unfortunately, this game is humbling sometimes," Baylor head coach Glenn Moore said. "It doesn't always seem fair. . . . We played an outstanding game and controlled it until the last half of the last inning. I couldn't be more proud of how the girls performed in a hostile environment. We really had them on their heels, but probably blew a couple opportunities to really blow it open. We couldn't put it out of reach. But I don't know if anything is out of reach with A&M's offense."

Baylor broke up a scoreless tie in a big way with a grand-slam blast by Claire Hosack after singles by Linsey Hays and Jordan Strickland and a Canion walk that loaded the bases.

"I was just thinking to hit it deep in the outfield, really, and score one run," Hosack said. "I felt good in the back of the box, and it came, and I just swung as hard as I could, just trying to get it deep to the outfield."

The Lady Bears added another run in the fifth, when Sarah Smith led off with a single to center, moved up to second on a groundout and over to third on a passed ball. Kaitlyn Thumann drove her in with an infield single to short, stretching the lead to 5-0.

After Jordan Strickland reached on a bunt single for her third hit of the day and Hosack walked, Baylor had a chance for more with the bases loaded. But Dumezich retired pinch-hitter Liz Paul on a pop-up to third as the Lady Bears left them loaded for the second time in the game.

"You always want to take advantage of every opportunity you get, especially against a team like Texas A&M," Hosack said. "You're not always going to get it, but you're always going to fight. And when you don't get it, it is frustrating."

Limited to just two hits through the first five frames, the Aggies (41-15) got things started with a leadoff single by Lanphear in the sixth. Facing an 0-2 count two outs later, Dumezich turned on a fastball and deposited over the wall in center field for a two-run homer that cut the deficit to 5-2.

"Obviously, that was the difference in the game," said A&M coach Jo Evans. "When Mel hit that home run . . . I can't tell you how energized everyone was. It was reminiscent of what happened in the SEC tournament against Alabama, when we were down and Amber Garza hits a grand slam that gives us a chance. That's how I felttoday. I knew if we could set the table, we could get this thing done."

That's exactly what happened in the bottom of the seventh.

After striking out Jenna Stark to open the inning, Canion gave up consecutive singles to Emily Albus and Garza to set the stage for Lanphear's game-tying blast over the wall in right field.

"It was just a missed rise ball," Canion said of the pitch to Lanphear. "It was supposed to be up, but up more."

Morgan, who struck out on a nasty changeup by Canion in the second, ended it with her solo shot off the same pitch in the seventh.

"It's almost not fair when you go against someone like Canion; and she can throw the ball so hard and then throw a changeup for a strike," Evans said. "It's the hardest thing to do as a hitter when it messes with your timing. It was fitting that it was a changeup that (Morgan) ends up hitting a walk-off on. . . . Against a pitcher like her, you have to stay patient and you can't get deflated. Our hitters just didn't get discouraged."

While it's sometimes frustrating to him, Moore said his team's even-keel attitude "will benefit them as they work their way back."

"The good thing about this team is that it doesn't get too high or too low," he said. "They didn't get too high when they beat Arizona, 7-0, and they won't get too low after this. They're not happy right now, I can tell you that."

Here are links to the boxscores from Saturday's Baylor-Texas A&M and Baylor-Arizona softball games.

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