ONE MORE FOR SUPERS: Lady Bears Edge #19 Tulsa, 2-1, Advance to FinalMay 18, 2014
By Jonathan Hill
Special to the Insider
Like New Coke and pretty much every Super Bowl, few things live up to their bloated hype.
This one did.
In a matchup of two of the nation's best pitchers, sixth-year Baylor senior Whitney Canion and the 17th-ranked Lady Bears came back from an early 1-0 deficit to beat Amy Creger and the Tulsa Golden Hurricane, 2-1, Saturday afternoon at Getterman Stadium to move a win away from an NCAA Super Regional.
Baylor (44-13) handed Creger just her second loss of the year - she fell to 28-2 - and the Lady Bears advanced to Sunday's 1 p.m. championship game in the Waco Regional. Tulsa (52-8) bounced back with a 10-6 win over Houston, but will have to sweep a pair of games on Sunday to move on.
"A huge win, of course," said Baylor head coach Glenn Moore, who picked up his 700th career victory. "(That's) a very good team with an exceptional pitcher that isn't used to losing. (Canion and Creger) are both All-American pitchers, and you don't see a lot of these games anymore because offenses are so strong."
After a dominating two-hitter in a first-round victory over Northwestern State, Canion put in another solid complete-game performance. She allowed only one run on five hits and three walks with six strikeouts, improving to 28-9 this year with her 120th career victory and 13th in postseason play.
"I admire what they can do," Moore said. "Fans don't realize what it takes to throw a ball 70 mph with movement and then come back with one at 55 mph. It's a work of art."
The only real trouble for Canion came in the second inning, when Tulsa first baseman Julie Kernen roped a single into left field and came around on an RBI triple by Cierra Hughes that sailed over the head of Lady Bear freshman centerfielder Lindsey Cargill.
That 1-0 lead would hold up until the bottom of the fourth inning.
After Creger retired the first two batters, Linsey Hays reached on an error by Kernen at first base. Sarah Smith then stroked a hard liner that Hurricane second baseman Shelby Blanton couldn't glove.
Baylor shortstop Jordan Strickland came through with a single to center that plated Hays with the tying run. Although the Lady Bears had threatened early with some warning-shot blasts, getting that run on the board was exactly the spark they needed.
"I think by the time we got to that inning where we scored, we were like, 'We're going to do this and no one's going to stop us,''' Strickland said.
Senior left fielder Liz Paul kept the offense rolling with a single just out of Kernen's reach, allowing Smith to score the go-ahead run and give the Lady Bears a 2-1 lead. Paul dug down nearly into the dirt to stroke a 0-2 offering into right field.
"I just told myself that wherever she pitched, I was going to hit it," Paul said. "She's obviously a great pitcher. She wasn't going to give me an easy pitch to hit. I was going to have to hit it where it was pitched."
With her first lead of the game, Canion went back to work and shut out the Hurricane on two hits over the last three frames. "Once we scored those two runs, I felt myself pick it up a lot there for that fifth, sixth and seventh inning," she said. "That's when I felt like I got a lot of life there, when we scored those two runs."
Tulsa did threaten in the seventh, with designated player Jodi Edmiston drilling a double to the gap in right-center field and moving over to third on Maggie Withee's sacrifice bunt. With only one out, Haley Henshaw pounded a line drive right into the waiting glove of senior first baseman Holly Holl.
Instead of having Canion pitch to Jill Barrett, Tulsa's leading hitter (.461), Moore decided to intentionally walk and put the potential go-ahead runner on base.
"I thought the intentional walk was a good call there to go right at the next batter," Canion said. "When they called timeout with two strikes, I thought just keep it together right here and go right at her."
After allowing Barrett to go over to second base with an uncontested stolen base, Canion sealed the victory with an overpowering strikeout of Shelby Blanton that sent the Lady Bears into Sunday's championship game.
"It was huge," Moore said. "To not have to come back at 5:30 and play that game, you can relax a little bit. (Sunday) will be a tough game, because both teams will be rested. But it's nice to not have that pressure that you've got to win now."
Houston stayed alive with a 7-6 win over Northwestern State in the first elimination game, but the Cougars (33-23) bowed out with a 10-6 loss to Tulsa. The Golden Hurricane survived without Creger, getting a total of 14 hits and homers from Erica Sampson and Catherine Horner.
If Tulsa wins the first game on Sunday, the if-necessary game is scheduled to start at 3:30 p.m. Baylor could potentially host the Super Regional after fourth-seeded Georgia lost to North Carolina State, 5-4, in a second-round game at the Georgia Regional in Athens.
BEAR FACTS: This was also Moore's 30th career postseason victory. Before coming to Baylor in 2001, he won 22 games at William Carey and 127 as LSU's' head coach.
Here is a link to the boxscore from Saturday's Baylor-Tulsa softball game.
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