'I'VE NEVER SEEN THAT': Canion Carries Lady Bears to Super Regional, 3-1May 20, 2014
By Jonathan Hill
Special to the Insider
Whitney Canion capped off an unbelievable regional tournament with an effort for the ages.
It took her 305 pitches, 17.1 innings and 19 strikeouts over two games, but the sixth-year senior left-hander carried the 13th-seeded Baylor softball team to its fifth NCAA Super Regional and her third.
Lifted by a strong offensive performance in the second game and an epic day by Canion, the Lady Bears (45-14) sent the 18th-ranked Tulsa Golden Hurricane packing with a 3-1 victory in Sunday's region championship game at Getterman Stadium.
Tulsa (53-9) won the first of two championship games, 1-0, on a walk-off home run by Erica Sampson in the bottom of the 11th inning. After throwing 175 pitches in that game, Canion (29-10) stunned the home crowd when she headed back to the circle for the winner-take-all if-necessary game.
"I don't think I've ever seen a pitcher do what Whitney Canion did," Baylor head coach Glenn Moore said. "I don't know how, but it was amazing. The team saw that, and they rallied behind her. We got what we needed from her, but she gave more. I wanted her to go two or three more innings (in the second game). I didn't want to start someone else and her get stiff. Whatever was left, I wanted to use it. She just kept going like the Energizer bunny."
When Moore asked her if she was ready to go, "My heart was like, 'Can I do it? Can I do it?'''
After a lead-off single by Jill Barrett in the top of the first inning, Canion allowed the only Tulsa run of the game when Catherine Horner stroked a two-out RBI single to right for an early 1-0 lead.
"Honestly, I started the game doubting myself when they scored the run right there," she said. "But once I went out there and threw in the game, I felt like I was fine. I never thought about pitch count, innings; I never asked (pitching coach Brittni Newman) what my pitch count was or anything. I was just taking it one inning at a time."
As was the case in victories over Northwestern State and Tulsa on Friday and Saturday, it was the Baylor offense that steadied Canion's hand and switched the momentum of the game.
Kaitlyn Thumann extended her on-base streak to 24 games when she was hit by a pitch to lead off the bottom of the first. Freshman Ari Hawkins kept it going with a line shot that careened off Hurricane third baseman Maggie Withee and into the Baylor dugout for a ground-run double that advanced Thumann to third.
Holly Holl then tied it up with a sacrifice fly to left that was deep enough to score Thumann from third.
"What I liked was the way we came out in the first inning," Moore said. "I thought we came out and said we aren't going to be denied. This is our park, and we are going to win this ballgame."
The bats stayed hot in the bottom of the second inning when Baylor's Sara Smith sent the first pitch by Hurricane pitcher Caitlin Sill well into the Geterman Stadium parking lot, giving the Lady Bears the eventual decisive game-winning run.
"We felt like this is Whitneys home, and we don't want to leave her out on the field after she threw all those innings," said Smith, who belted her sixth home run of the season and the team's 68th, tying a school record set in 2006. "We didn't want to just bear down and let them win. First pitch (Sill) threw, I liked it; it looked like a beach ball, and I just swung."
Although the one-run lead proved to be enough, Canion got some breathing room when the Lady Bears scored an insurance run in the fourth.
Freshman Lindsey Cargil sent a 2-2 offering to the wall in right-center field for a leadoff double and moved up to third on a fielding error by Hurricane centerfielder Cierra Hughes. Hawkins came through again, driving a ball off the left-field wall and legging out a double that scored Cargill and gave Baylor a 3-1 lead.
Canion worked herself into a precarious situation in the sixth, when Tulsa loaded the bases with only one out. Into her 16th inning of work for the day and approaching 300 pitches, Canion dug deep and struck out Haley Henshaw in a nine-pitch at-bat for the second out.
Barrett, the Hurricane's leading hitter with a .461 average, came up with a chance to turn the game around with the bases still loaded. But Holl snagged a screaming ground ball and stepped on first to close out the inning.
With her confidence unshaken and her arm still attached, Canion headed back to close out the seventh in impressive fashion. Facing the 2-3-4 batters, she struck out the first, got Sampson on a foul pop-out and relied on Thumann to track down Horner's shallow pop fly to right.
"I felt like we really stuck together and we were really pushing each other and saying we need to win this game," Hawkins said of Canion's performance. "I feel like Whitney was motivation and everybody else on the field that was working hard was motivation. I just think we pulled through."
After getting through the regional, Baylor was in position to host a Super Regional after fourth-seeded Georgia dropped a game against North Carolina State, 5-4, on Saturday. But the Bulldogs (49-13) came back to sweep the Wolfpack on Sunday, 9-1 and 8-0, and win the Athens Regional.
In a rematch of a 2011 Super Regional won by the Lady Bears en route to the World Series, Georgia will host Baylor in a best-of-three series that starts with a game at 1 p.m. CDT Friday at Jack Turner Stadium in Athens, Ga., that will be televised by ESPNU.
Game 2 is 11 a.m. CDT Saturday, with the if-necessary game immediately following, and both games will be carried by ESPN. The winner advances to the Women's College World Series that will be held May 29-June 4 in Oklahoma City, Okla.
Three years ago, Baylor won the opener at Georgia, 5-1, dropped the middle game, 14-2, and came back to take the decisive third game, when Canion went the distance in the circle and also hit a home run.
Tulsa 1, Baylor 0 (11 innings): The first of Sunday's championship game was another classic pitching duel between All-American pitchers Canion and Tulsa's Aimee Creger.
While Baylor pulled out a 2-1 decision on Saturday, the Hurricane ended an epic game with Sampson's solo home run in the 11th, forcing the decisive if-necessary game.
Pitching for the third straight day, Canion struck out 10 and tossed a shutout through the first 10 innings. But the Lady Bears weren't able to scratch across a run against Creger (29-2), who gave up just six hits and two walks while striking out nine in the 11-inning complete game.
The Lady Bears started the game strong, getting runners on base in each of the first three innings. But they were hitless from that point until Sarah Smith led off the 10th with a shot up the middle that was just out of Creger's reach and went into center field.
After a 1-2-3 inning by Canion in the bottom of the 10th, Baylor threatened again in the top of the 11th with a leadoff walk by Hawkins. But after Holl fouled out on a ball down the left-field line, Hawkins was called out at second on a stolen-base attempt when she appeared to clearly be safe.
That momentum-turning play led to Sampson's walk-off homer with one out in the bottom of the 11th as Tulsa stayed alive in the double-elimination tournament.
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