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BOOKEND SERIES: Seniors Returning to OKC After Eye Opener in 2011

May 27, 2014

By Jerry Hill
Baylor Bear Insider

Liz Paul calls it insane. Holly Holl just says it is indescribable.

After walking into ASA Hall of Fame Stadium three years ago as wet-behind-the-ears freshmen, catcher Clare Hosack, Holl and Paul are back in the Women's College World Series - this time as seasoned seniors - along with sixth-year senior pitcher Whitney Canion.

"You go, and there are 8,000 people in the stands, and you can't hear," said Canion, who was a redshirt sophomore that season. "I remember walking out on the field after the National Anthem was played. It's something you can tell people about, but you don't know until you experience it. I'm just so happy these girls get to experience it."

Nothing they've done before or since could fully prepare them for that experience at the 2011 World Series, when the Lady Bears beat Big 12 rivals Oklahoma State and Missouri, 1-0, on walk-off home runs by Kelsi Kettler and Holly Holl, respectively, and lost to Alabama (3-0) and eventual national champion Arizona State (4-0).

"I kind of underestimated it a little bit," said Holl, who hit a two-out, two-strike blast off Missouri ace Chelsea Thomas to end the 13-inning, 3 ½-hour marathon that didn't end until after midnight. "You get there, and it's just this huge production with ESPN. We weren't used to playing on TV, so that was a change for us. (There are) just so many people there; all these little girls wanting your autograph. It's kind of like what we're used to, times 10 or 20. I don't know if I could put just one word on it, but it was definitely a dream come true."

Like this season, a key part of Baylor's run was an improbable series win over Georgia at a Super Regional in Athens, Ga. After splitting the first two games, the Lady Bears won the decisive third game, 9-2.

"It's crazy that we went through Georgia both times," said Paul, a senior pitcher/outfielder from Sugar Land, Texas. "I had no idea what to expect being a freshman, having never played on a big stage like that before. And then just going into Georgia, I think it was more of a shock when we won. This time, it was like we came in expecting to win. That's why there wasn't as much of a celebration, because we're not done yet."

While Canion tossed a pair of shutouts and pitched all but the final inning of the four games at the 2011 World Series, she said the feeling then was the team was just happy to be there.

"It's a different feeling than it was in 2011," said Canion, who is 31-10 with a 1.40 ERA and 296 strikeouts this year. "I was just so happy to be a part of that experience. But this team is on a mission. We're not happy just to be there. We're not done yet. We're not just satisfied being in the top eight."

Three years later, that midnight blast by Holl still ranks as Holl's career highlight.

"I'm best friends with Kelsi Kettler," Holl said of Kettler, the sophomore catcher/third baseman who hit an eighth-inning homer off OSU's Kat Espinosa in the first round. "So, anytime it's brought up, it's just so exciting. It's something I'll never forget. I would say that so far, it's been the highlight of my career."

Kettler was actually a fill-in behind the plate, taking over at catcher when Hosack suffered four fractures when her own foul-tipped ball hit her in the face in the Super Regional at Georgia. After sitting out the next three games, Hosack was back in the lineup for the Game 2 matchup against Alabama in the World Series.

"Forget the part that I wasn't playing," Hosack said. "I was a freshman, and we were going to the World Series. I kept telling (Baylor head coach Glenn Moore) every day, 'I just want to catch. I want to catch' So, when I got to catch against Alabama in the second game, I was just so excited."

As an "itty bitty freshman," the World Series experience was a tad-bit overwhelming for Hosack.

"But I get overwhelmed pretty easily," she said. "I'm shy. So, if you put me in a room with a lot of people, I'm like, 'Oh, this is overwhelming.' But the stadiums, the fans, the autographs . . . it's just such a huge place to be."

While Canion was the Lady Bears' clear-cut ace in the circle, and Holl and Hosack were both in the starting lineup and key contributors, Paul played more of a bit role. She was 0-for-3 in pinch-hit plate appearances and worked a 1-2-3 seventh in the close-out 4-0 loss to Arizona State.

"I pitched the last inning, and it was really cool, because it was against Arizona State, and they ended up winning the whole thing," Paul said. "That was really cool, especially as a freshman, but it was nerve-wracking, just a really crazy experience."

Paul has arguably saved her best for last, going 3-0 with four saves and a 1.94 ERA this season. She's also played the outfield for the first time in her career and has added a .213 batting average with two homers and eight RBI.

"The first time, I was just happy to be here and just happy to be a part of such a cool team, no matter what my role was," she said. "But now as a senior, I want to be able to contribute, and it's been really cool to do that. But whatever my role is, I'm going to embrace it and do whatever I can to help this team."

Moore said it's helped having the four seniors on the team, "to get them to share the do's and the don'ts; and kind of enjoy the scenery and the fun stuff."

"But we're going up there on a business trip as well," he said. "And while we want to enjoy it, we want to win ballgames this time. We don't want to just be happy to be there. And I don't think we were the last time. We finished tied for third, so we did our work up there. But we've got a better offense this time and a pretty good pitcher. So, we think we can do some damage."

After sweeping fourth-seeded Georgia in the Super Regional, 9-1 and 6-3, the 13th-seeded Lady Bears (47-14) face fifth-seeded Florida (50-12) in a first-round game at 11 a.m. Thursday at ASA Hall of Stadium in Oklahoma City, Okla.

"It's crazy how literally any of the teams in that field has a really good chance of winning," Paul said. "I think we absolutely do. We're coming together at the right time. We're hitting well, the pitching is great, we're prepared. We've faced some really tough competition to help us get ready for this. And I think we all have the attitude that we're not just happy to be here. We expect to win. We really believe we can win this thing."

In Thursday's other first-round games, top-seeded Oregon (54-7) faces eighth-seeded Florida State (55-7) at 1:30 p.m. in the other half of Baylor's bracket; sixth-seeded Louisiana-Lafayette (49-8) plays 14th-seeded Kentucky (48-14) at 6 p.m.; and top-seeded Alabama (50-11) faces seventh-seeded and defending national champion Oklahoma (50-11) at 8:30.

The Baylor-Florida winner advances to face the Oregon-Florida State winner at 6 p.m. Friday, while the losers play an elimination game at 11 a.m. Saturday.

Here are capsules of Baylor's four games at the 2011 World Series:

#15/17 Baylor 1, #25 Oklahoma State 0 (8 innings): Sophomore catcher Kelsi Kettler ended a classic pitchers' duel between Baylor's Whitney Canion and Oklahoma State's Kat Espinosa with a walk-off home run in the bottom of the eighth inning.

With Kettler urging the ball to "stay fair," her line-drive shot off Espinosa barely cleared the wall and sailed just inches inside the left-field foul pole.

"She used every bit of the park, that's for sure," said Baylor head coach Glenn Moore. "Good thing we didn't lift the fence to eight feet, I'll put it that way."

Canion picked up her 30th win of the season, tossing a three-hit shutout for eight innings and walking just two batters while striking out 10.

"You get in the losers' bracket, and it's almost a death sentence," Moore said. "You know somebody's going to play two games and go home, and now we know it's not going to be us. We're going to play it one game at a time. That was the first one under our belt. It wasn't the pretest, but we fought hard."

#2 Alabama 3, #15/17 Baylor 0: Struggling with her control, pitcher Whitney Canion walked five and hit two other batters as the second-seeded Alabama Crimson Tide extended their mind-boggling scoreless string to 30 consecutive innings.

All-American pitcher Kelsi Dunne (29-4) combined with Jackie Traina on a five-hit shutout, while Canion gave up three runs (two earned) on six hits and the combined seven free passes while striking out seven in six innings.

With Kettler urging the ball to "stay fair," her line-drive shot off Espinosa barely cleared the wall and sailed just inches inside the left-field foul pole.

Baylor head coach Glenn Moore second-guessed himself for asking the field crew to repair the muddy field after back-to-back one-out singles in the top of the first inning by Kacye Walker and Holly Holl. After an estimated 10-minute delay, Dunne worked out of it by getting Megan Turk on a fly to left and Canion looking.

"When we've had two kids tear ACLs . . . and you see (Walker) slip twice, then it's not worth it to lose a kid," Moore said. "I'm very disappointed that at a World Series we would have a field crew that doesn't know when a field is playable. I thought that took our momentum away early in the game."

#15/17 Baylor 1, #5 Missouri 0 (13 innings): Sleeping on the couch at his Waco apartment, Sam Holl remembers waking up just in time to see his sister, Holly Holl, hit a walk-off homer off Missouri's Chelsea Thomas in the bottom of the 13th inning of a 3 ½-hour marathon and thinking, "Did that just happen?"

Baylor coach Glenn Moore, who led the Lady Bears to their first Final Four berth, said it was a "phenomenal game, an old-fashioned pitchers' duel - the way you love 'em - unless you're ready to go to sleep."

The clock had already struck midnight when Holl lifted Thomas'192nd pitch of the night over the wall in left field for Baylor's sixth walk-off win of the season and their second in extra innings in three days.

"Toward the end of the game, I just started laughing," said Canion, who threw 175 pitches in tossing a two-hitter with 11 strikeouts in posting her fifth postseason shutout and second in the World Series. "I was like, 'This is so fun to be playing at this level in the World. Series. This is what it's supposed to be like. I know everyone wants to see a ton of home runs, but I'm more of a pitcher and it's so fun to see this kind of atmosphere. It stinks that I had to go that long, but it was so fun just battling out there every inning, trying to get their hitters out and keep my pitch count low."

#1 Arizona State 4, #15/17 Baylor 0: Unable to refuel from the 1-0, 13-inning, 3 ½-hour marathon win over Missouri the night before, Baylor's Cinderella run finally ran out of gas in a semifinal matchup against the top-seeded and eventual national champion Sun Devils.

ASU freshman pitcher Dallas Escobedo (35-3) wasn't anywhere close to as dominating as Missouri pitcher Chelsea Thomas, who struck out 19 Baylor batters the night before. But she shut out the Lady Bears on five hits, one walk and a hit batter while striking out eight in the complete-game victory.

"I thought we just ran out of gas, personally," Baylor head coach Glenn Moore said. "The game last night (against Missouri) took it out of us. I knew they would give everything that was left, and they did that."

Mandy Urfer's two-run home run off Whitney Canion (31-12) was more than enough for the Sun Devils, who added single runs in the fifth and seventh to knock out the Lady Bears' sophomore ace.

"This is what I live for, softball is my life," Canion said. "I'm just thankful that I have two more years, because that's all I'm going to want to do is come back here. Winning a Big 12 championship is huge, but winning a national championship would be even better."

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