GOING, GOING GONE: Lady Bears' Season Ends With 8-0 Loss to AggiesMay 20, 2013
By Jerry Hill
Baylor Bear Insider
COLLEGE STATION, Texas - Pitching with a fractured right hand, freshman Heather Stearns dominated Texas A&M's powerful lineup for four perfect innings to get the 18th-ranked Baylor softball team to a winner-take-all championship game at the NCAA College Station Regional.
But 13th-ranked and 16th-seeded Texas A&M exploded for five home runs and an 8-0 victory in Sunday's second championship game, ending it in the bottom of the fifth with back-to-back shots by Amber Garza and Cali Lanphear.
"It's very difficult," Stearns said of facing an A&M lineup that hit 11 homers in the regional and a national-best 101 dingers this season. "They're all good hitters, and they make adjustments. Seeing them multiple teams is hard. Credit them for doing what they did, because they're a really good hitting team."
And while the Aggies (42-16) "figured out" Stearns - she gave up a three-run homer to Garza in the first and a mammoth shot by Megan May leading off the second - A&M's sophomore righty Lauren Ainsley (14-7) kept Baylor's potent attack off-balance with a baffling mixture of changeups and drop balls.
"I don't know if we've seen a pitcher that slow, other than when they bat off me in batting practice," said Baylor head coach Glenn Moore, whose team ended the season with a 42-17 record. "She did an outstanding job of not only throwing that slow one, but she mixed up her speeds. We couldn't wait for it and keep our hands back long enough to get a good bat on it."
After ripping A&M ace Mel Dumezich for 26 hits and 14 runs in 13 innings over two days, the Lady Bears managed just two hits and three walks while striking out four times in five innings against Ainsley.
"I thought it was huge for (Ainsley) to come out and do what she did in that first inning," A&M coach Jo Evans said of a 1-2-3 top half of the first. "That gave us such a huge boost. This wouldn't have happened if she didn't get out there and give us a chance to stay in the game and score some runs."
Riding the momentum of a 9-5 win in Sunday's first championship game, Baylor seemed to be in prime position to make it at least to the Super Regional round for the fourth time in the last seven years.
But by the end of the first inning, the Aggies had every ounce of momentum back on their side.
In fact, it didn't even take them till the end of the inning to get it back. After Ainsley ended the top half by striking out Linsey Hays, Garza gave the Aggies a 3-0 lead just three batters into the home half of the frame.
Stearns (12-5), who retired all 12 batters she faced in the first game in relief of Whitney Canion, walked leadoff batter Jenna Stark and gave up a bloop single to pesky 2-hole hitter Emily Albus on a nine-pitch at-bat that saw her foul off four pitches before flaring one just inside the left-field foul line.
Garza followed with a no-doubter over the right-field wall. And just like that, it was 3-0.
"Mostly, we got a lot more disciplined," Evans said. "They took the pitch they knew they were going to get, and they got really aggressive on it. And you could see immediately, (Stearns) got on her heels. Canion did the same thing when we got on her. That's why I kept talking to our kids about keeping your foot on the accelerator, because I felt like they kind of took a step back when we started driving the ball."
Stearns struck out two of the next four hitters and got out of the first without further damage, but her day was done one batter into the second, when Megan May hit a towering solo shot to right field for a 4-0 lead.
Moore, who had kept Stearns' injury under wraps after she took a line-drive shot off her hand in a practice on Wednesday, said what the freshman pitcher did over the last two days was "amazing, to say the least." She also pitched a complete game and gave up only one earned run in Saturday night's 8-4 win over Arizona in an elimination game.
"We weren't even sure if she would be able to pick up a ball," Moore said. "There are people who won't play if they have a hangnail, and this kid's out there pitching with a broken hand. That's how you earn respect."
Canion, who was rocked around for five runs on seven hits and six walks in three innings in Sunday's first game, came out of the pen and retired seven of the first eight batters she faced to calm things down and keep the Lady Bears within striking distance.
But May hit a line-drive shot in the fourth for her second of the day and 14th of the season, and then Garza ended Canion's day with a two-run blast in the fifth.
Facing senior right-hander Courtney Repka, Lanphear cleared the wall in left for the Aggies' fifth homer of the day, ninth against Baylor and 11th of the regional to end the game by the eight-run mercy rule.
"They had Whitney's number and had her figured out," Moore said of Canion, who also gave up three homers in Saturday's 6-5 loss to the Aggies. "And her speeds were down a little, so maybe the heat got to her a little bit. But Whit has done phenomenal things here at Baylor. It's a tough, humbling sport, and sometimes you come out on the bottom end of it. And we did today."
A&M advances to face top-ranked and top-seeded Oklahoma (50-4) in the Super Regional in Norman, Okla., after the Sooners crushed Arkansas, 14-1, in their region championship game.
"They took control of the game offensively to start with, and we couldn't recover," said Moore, who has all but one every-day starter returning to the lineup for next season. "I don't think we ever threw in the towel. We were confident after what we did in the first game that we could score in big innings, but it didn't happen."
Baylor 9, Texas A&M 5: Showing true grit, the Lady Bears overcame an early 5-2 deficit with seven unanswered runs to force a decisive championship game.
"Our team does a great job of just fighting every inning," said senior center fielder Kathy Shelton, who went 3-for-4 and drove in the go-ahead run with a two-run single in the fifth. "Even the innings we didn't score, we were adjusting, trying to figure out a way to score runs. And that's what we did. Little by little, we got back. Then when we got the lead, we built on it and were able to finish that game."
The key, though, was the shutdown relief from freshman pitcher Heather Stearns.
Batting around in the top of the second off Baylor starter Whitney Canion, the Aggies took a 5-2 lead on a three-run home run by Megan May, an RBI single by Amber Garza and Nicole Morgan's RBI groundout.
Canion wiggled out of a bases-loaded, nobody-out jam in the third, striking out Emily Albus looking and getting Garza and Cali Lanphear on pop-ups. But she walked Morgan to lead off the fourth, Stearns was summoned from the bullpen.
"I was hoping we'd be able to beat them with Whitney on the mound and then bring Heather next," Moore said of Stearns, who suffered a fractured right hand on Wednesday, when she was hit by a line drive in practice. "Having to use her as early as we did probably gave them a little bit of the advantage. But anytime you win that game, you're feeling pretty good. They didn't touch her, really."
After A&M scored five runs on seven hits and six walks in three innings off Canion, Stearns retired 12 in a row in picking up her second win of the tournament and 12th of the year. She threw first-pitch strikes to all but three batters, and the Aggies' only balls out of the infield were flyouts by Morgan in the sixth and Mel Dumezich and May in the seventh.
"I talked to our team psychologist, and he was like, 'Don't think about you during this,''' said Stearns, who will not have to undergo surgery for the fracture. "So, I really tried to my focus on the seniors and just play for them."
Shelton, one of those seniors, got things going for the Lady Bears in the first inning with a leadoff bunt single. Two batters later, she scored on a Linsey Hays two-run blast to right field off Dumezich (27-8) for an early 2-0 lead.
Baylor threatened to pad the lead when Jordan Strickland sandwiched a single to right between a pair of hit batters. But Kelsi Kettler grounded out to third, leaving the bases loaded.
Despite getting the leadoff batter on base in each of the next three innings, the Lady Bears came up empty and still trailed by three going into the bottom of the fifth.
That's when the bats came to life.
Freshman Sarah Smith led off with a double to the gap in left-center, followed by a walk to Kaitlyn Thumann, with both runners moving up on a wild pitch after Strickland flied out to right.
Claire Hosack singled up the middle to drive in Smith, and then Kettler made it a one-run game when she beat out an infield single to short. After Robin Landrith grounded out to first, Shelton won an eight-pitch battle with Dumezich and lined a two-run single into center field to give the Lady Bears the lead before getting tagged out at second trying to stretch it into a double.
"She puts the team on her shoulders through adversity and difficulty," Moore said of Shelton. "Kathy is amazing. To show you how unselfish she is, she knows she could very well be taking her last at-bat of her college career, and she's trying to lay down a bunt and get on base and try to be a spark for the team."
Aided by some shaky A&M defense, the Lady Bears added three insurance runs in the sixth. After a leadoff double by Holl and a perfectly placed bunt single by Hays, Smith reached base and drove in a run when the shortstop booted a grounder.
Thumann then reached and loaded the bases on a fielder's choice grounder, when the first baseman thought about trying to throw to third for a possible force-out. Hosack made them pay again with a two-run single over the left fielder's head, stretching the lead to 9-5.
"I thought they were really terrific and gave us everything we could handle out there, the way they came back in the first game," A&M coach Jo Evans said. "Very much like yesterday, when they left a lot of runners on base and didn't take advantage and we ended up finding a way to win at the end, it kind of flipped on us. I just thought they did a really great job of forcing our hand and attacking."
Baylor knocked around Dumezich, the A&M ace, scoring nine runs on 15 hits, one walk and two hit batters in six innings. Led by Shelton's 3-for-4 performance, the Lady Bears had six players with multiple hits and three with multi-RBI games.
Hosack was 2-for-3 with three RBI, while Hays went 2-for-4 with two RBI and also scored a run.
"Our offense was definitely alive this weekend, and we hit the ball extremely well," said Shelton, who had a 19-game streak of reaching base snapped with her 0-for-3 performance in Sunday's second game. "I'm very proud of the team."
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