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TICKET PUNCHED: BU Returns to Series After Finishing Off Sweep, 6-3

May 25, 2014

By Jerry Hill
Baylor Bear Insider

ATHENS, Ga. - Like a pair of heavyweight fighters, Baylor and the fourth-seeded Georgia softball teams traded blows for the first 4 ½ innings of Saturday's Super Regional game at Jack Turner Stadium, neither able to come up with anything close to a knockout blow.

"I thought giving up one here and there was good, especially the way we responded," said Baylor ace left-hander Whitney Canion, who stranded 12 runners in her sixth straight complete game in postseason play.

Baylor saved its best responses for last.

Linsey Hays gave the Lady Bears (47-14) their first lead of the game with a two-run blast in the fifth and they added two more runs on three Georgia errors in the sixth to complete the series sweep, 6-3, and punch their ticket to the World Series for the second time in four years and third time in program history.

"It feels amazing," said Canion, who gave up three runs on eight hits and five walks with seven strikeouts. "I tried not to cry out there in my (ESPN) interview, just knowing that this will be the perfect ending to my career. I can't explain how happy I am for this team, for people that haven't gotten to experience this. I know I'll never forget 2011, but to finish on this is one heck of a note."

After getting through the Super Regional unscathed - they won the opener, 9-1, on Friday - the Lady Bears will face either fifth-seeded Florida (48-11) or 12th-seeded Washington (36-13) in the opening game of the Women's College World Series that starts Thursday at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium in Oklahoma City, Okla.

Baylor head coach Glenn Moore said he took "competitive teams" to the World Series in 2007 and 2011, but "I don't think we've taken this kind of offense to the World Series, and we've got the arm in the circle to do it. We're going up there expecting to win."

Canion (31-10) shut out the Bulldogs (49-14) through the first 6 2/3 innings of Friday's 9-1 win and finished with a complete-game two-hitter. But she had to really work for this one, giving up base runners in every inning and seemingly always working out of jams.

"It was huge, to kind of minimize the big inning," said Canion, who threw 169 pitches on a hot afternoon. "If I do have a bad game, my weakness has been the big inning. . . . My goal is to not let them score any runs every game, and they were constantly making adjustments on the rise ball. I thought my off-speed (pitches) just kept me alive. I threw it in every count, and I was so confident in it. It was tough out there, I was getting tired, and I'm glad we got it done in one game."

Unlike the day before, when Kansas transfer Alex Hugo had a first-inning triple and seventh-inning homer for the only two hits off Canion, the Bulldogs were on the sixth-year senior pitcher from the get-go. Starting with a 12-pitch at-bat by leadoff batter Paige Wilson that ended in one of her seven strikeouts, they made her work for every out.

Hugo followed with a no-doubter shot over the center-field wall for her school-record 25th home run of the season and a 1-0 Georgia lead. But she never saw a pitch the rest of the day, intentionally walked on her final three plate appearances.

"Whitney's a smart kid; and she stays within herself," Moore said. "Hugo is a kid that you know can beat you all along, so you just don't let her do it. I think that was the right move, obviously it was. Maybe that's why we won the ball game. Who knows?"

The Lady Bears didn't answer right away, getting one runner on in the top of the first on a one-out walk by Ari Hawkins. But they tied it in the second and had two balls that should have left the yard.

Hays hit the first one, a blast that hit the top of the wall in right-center field and somehow bounced back in for a stand-up double. Physics tells you that shouldn't happen.

Sarah Smith kept her hot postseason streak going with a single up the middle to put runners on the corners with nobody out. Jordan Strickland followed with a shot to dead center that Georgia center fielder Samantha LaZear literally robbed with a perfectly timed catch over the wall, but it was enough to bring Hays in with the tying run.

Georgia loaded the bases in the third with an intentional walk to Hugo, a single by Tina Iosefa and a hit batter, but Canion worked out of it by striking out Kaylee Pauiloa.

Pinch-runner Niaja Griffin nearly singlehandedly created the Bulldogs' next run. After a leadoff single by Katie Browne, Griffin went from first to third on a sacrifice bunt by Bethany Beggs and scored on LaZear's infield single to second.

They threatened to add to it with a crazy-spinning hit to short by Geri Ann Glasco, but LaZear was ruled out by runner's interference.

Baylor's answer was some perfect "small ball." After Smith walked and Jordan Strickland singled to center, pinch-hitter Robin Landrith moved them up with a sac bunt and Lindsey Cargill brought the tying run home with a sacrifice fly to left.

"I think the whole game, that's exactly what we did: we responded," said Hays, who was 2-for-3 with two RBI and two runs scored. "Every time that Georgia would come out and get a run, so would we. That was such an important aspect of this game."

Georgia did it again in the top of the fifth, when Iosefa led off with a double to left-center and Anna Swafford walked. After Puailoa struck out, the Lady Bears appeared to get the second out on a fielder's choice grounder to short by Browne, but Smith wasn't on the third-base bag for the force and was just late on a swipe tag on pinch-runner Katie Sowers.

Beggs drove in the go-ahead run and gave the Bulldogs a 3-2 lead with a sac fly to right. But with runners on second and third and a chance to do more damage, Canion got pinch-hitter Maeve McGuire on a pop-up back to the circle.

For the first 4 ½ innings, Baylor was always the chaser. But with one blast, they became the chased.

After a leadoff walk by Holly Holl and a fielder's choice grounder by Clare Hosack, Hays hit one into the Georgia pines just beyond the right field wall for her 13th homer of the season to give the Lady Bears their first lead of the game, 4-3.

"I just knew that she had kept coming in on me, so I backed up off the plate a little bit," Hays said. "And I knew that if she did it again, I was going to take her deep. . . . Before the game and leading up to this series, we talked about being really patient and taking our pitch. But I love being aggressive. So whenever a pitcher gives me a good pitch, even if it's on the first pitch, I'm going to take it."

Canion worked a shutdown inning in the sixth, with the only runner coming on Hugo's third intentional walk, and then Baylor broke it open with two runs on three Georgia errors in the bottom of the frame to take a 6-3 lead.

Landrith started it with a line-drive shot off Chelsea Wilkinson (33-10) for a leadoff single, moved up to second on a wild pitch and then over to third on a throwing error by the catcher. Another throwing error brought her home, this time by Hugo on a grounder to second by Cargill, who was thrown out at second trying to advance.

Baylor wasn't done, though. Kaitlyn Thumann singled through the left side for her first hit of the Super Regional. And on a bunt single by Hawkins, first baseman Glasco just missed the throw from third, bringing around another score and giving Canion a cushion to work with in the seventh.

"They scared us a little bit in that last inning, but that gave us a little breathing room," Moore said. "We were never satisfied. Three runs was not enough; one certainly wasn't. That's why we were aggressive, we were trying to make some things happen. Fortunately, we forced a few mistakes on defense - they threw the ball away - and we were able to get some runs in. But we executed some things very well, the bunt and run, and forced some mistakes. Those weren't just errors, they were forced errors."

The Bulldogs didn't go down quietly, getting a one-out double by Puailoa and a walk by Browne to bring the tying run to the plate. But Canion did her magic again, getting Beggs on a tapper back to the circle and retiring LaZear to end the game on a foul pop-up that Hosack caught at the wall back behind the plate.

In a quick turnaround, the Lady Bears will likely leave on Tuesday for the trip north to Oklahoma City. The first-round games on Thursday are noon, 2:30 p.m., 7 and 9:30 p.m., with the actual game times announced on Sunday after the last of the four Super Regionals are completed.

Already in the field with Baylor are second-seeded Alabama, No. 6 seed ULL and eighth-seeded Florida State. Seventh-seeded Oklahoma split the first two games with Tennessee, while top-seeded Oregon, No. 3 seed UCLA and Florida hold 1-0 leads in series against Minnesota, Kentucky and Washington, respectively.

"I just want to say, it's time for people to get off the SEC kick, because there are other conferences out there," Moore said. "I have respect for the SEC. We know they're good, I've coached in it (at LSU). But there are other conferences out there, and I'm very proud of the Big 12. We just beat the tournament champions of the SEC, and it's time to give the Big 12 a little bit of respect. I think we earned it today."

Here is a link to the boxscore from Saturday's Baylor-Georgia softball game.

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