WHITNEY'S LAST PITCH: Finishing at World Series Would Be Perfect EndingMay 22, 2014
By Jerry Hill
Baylor Bear Insider
Between wedding planning, finishing up course work for a master's degree in sports management and throwing a few thousand pitches, Whitney Canion has wrestled with the idea of pursing a pro softball career.
But having already turned down a short-term contract with a National Pro Fastpitch team, Baylor's sixth-year senior pitcher believes her storybook ending would be taking the Lady Bears to their second World Series in four years.
"Being there was so cool as a kid and even as a recruit," said Canion, who is Baylor's career leader for wins (121), complete games (113), shutouts (40) and strikeouts (1,450). "But actually playing it is a dream. I've considered playing here and there. But if I was to finish at the World Series, I think you've just got to finish on that note."
With her superhuman 305-pitch effort in Sunday's championship games at the Waco Regional, Canion (29-10) kept the dream alive. She tossed a six-hitter in the winner-takes-all final at Getterman Stadium, beating Tulsa, 3-1, and helping the Lady Bears (45-14) make it to a Super Regional for the third time in her career.
Baylor plays fourth-seeded Georgia (49-13) in the best-of-three series at Jack Turner Stadium in Athens, Ga., with the first game at 1 p.m. CDT Friday and broadcast by ESPNU. On Saturday, the schedule calls for a championship game at 11 a.m. CDT, followed immediately by the if-necessary game.
"Coach (Glenn Moore) said earlier today, 'Ladies, we are two wins away from there,''' Canion said. "And I was like, 'Oh, my gosh!' I know that we are (two wins away), but when he said that, chill bumps just ran through me, because only four of us know what that's like to experience."
And what an experience it was.
As a third-year sophomore at the 2011 World Series in Oklahoma City, Okla., Canion pitched every inning in the Lady Bears' four games, allowing just six earned runs in 33.1 innings of work. She threw an eight-inning 1-0 shutout against Oklahoma State and followed that up with a two-hitter in an epic 13-inning 1-0 win over Missouri.
Despite pitching for USA Softball and winning gold medals at the 2011 World Cup and Pan American Games, Canion said the World Series is still the pinnacle.
"We come out there, and there are 8,000-plus fans; you can't even find your family," she said. "It felt like you were in the big leagues, almost. . . . I did that (throwing 13 innings) in high school. But you can't compare high school to this - the mental game, the batters. You have four good hitters in high school."
Baylor is taking the same path this season as 2011, when the Lady Bears won two of three in a Super Regional at Georgia.
"I feel like we were just there yesterday, almost," Canion said, "just because I'm going back to what that experience was like."
The first game could not have started out any worse. Canion gave up a first-pitch leadoff homer in the bottom of the first inning, and then lost catcher Clare Hosack in the top of the second inning when she fouled a ball off her face and suffered four fractures and cuts above and below her eye.
"We don't really know: Does she have a concussion? Did she lose her eye?" Canion said. "We're trying to focus in one of the biggest games we've ever played in, and we're wondering. It was hard not to worry about her, for all of the teammates. But for me, I throw to her every pitch. It was really hard for me to concentrate in the game. But once we got the lead, everyone was like, 'We're doing this for Clare!'''
Georgia, which had never lost a Super Regional game at home, bounced back to dominate the second game, 14-2. But Canion and the Lady Bears answered with a 9-2 win the decisive game.
"For us to get beat like we did in Game 2 and then turn around in Game 3 and play like we did, that's why we went to the World Series, because that team had so much heart," Canion said. "I look at this team now, and some of the girls don't have that experience. But we have four seniors as leaders here to tell them about the games. But we also have more talent."
If there was any question, though, on who the leader is, that was answered on Sunday. Canion took a shutout into the 11th and lost 1-0 on a walk-off homer by Tulsa's Erica Sampson, and then went the distance again in a 3-1 victory over the Golden Hurricane, finishing the day with 17.1 innings, 305 pitches and 19 strikeouts.
"That was something that I proved to myself that I could do," Canion said. "After the 11 innings (in Sunday's opening game), I looked at (Coach Moore), and he said, 'We've got to go with you again.' I wish y'all could have seen my reaction then. . . . I proved to myself that I could keep going when I thought I couldn't. That's what Sunday was all about was my team just keeping my adrenalin going and taking it pitch by pitch."
Playing AAU select tournaments growing up, Canion remembers throwing two or three games a day, but never 305 pitches.
"It's so much tougher here mentally than it was in high school," she said. "You throw a lot more pitches to batters. I've thrown two and three games a day, but I can guarantee you that they weren't seven-inning games; they were timed. I threw 14 innings at OU my freshman year, and that was around 200-something pitches."
After massage treatments and frequent ice baths, Canion said she is ready to go this weekend and is "here to throw every pitch for this team."
"I've seen these batters, 1 through 9, go up there and fight," she said. "I know they're out there fighting for me. When we were out in the field, they were saying, 'Come, this is your park, Whitney, this is Getterman, we're going to win at home.' I saw a very determined team that kept telling me to just go out there every pitch, and if I don't strike them out, they're going to make a play."
Thanks in part to a couple of injuries that kept her around for an extra two years, Canion already has a bachelor's degree in hand and finished up her course work for the sports management master's this spring. She has a strategic sourcing or marketing internship set up for this summer at BNSF Railway in Fort Worth and will graduate on Aug. 16, a week before her marriage to longtime boyfriend, Luke Reichenstein.
"Can I just tell you, I've been in grad school this semester, wedding planning and softball," she said. "It's been stressful, but the time of my life."
The only thing that would make it a little sweeter is another trip to the World Series.
"When it came down to Game 3 on Sunday, (pitching coach Britni) Newman was saying, 'Well, this could potentially be your last game at Getterman.' And I didn't know the tears could out that fast," Canion said. "I think that's what pushed me. I'm still debating about playing here or there. But for most of us, this is our last hopefully two weeks of softball. And we want to go out with a bang."
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