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'WE'RE NOT DONE': Gators Run-Rule Lady Bears, 11-0, in Series Opener

May 30, 2014

By Jerry Hill
Baylor Bear Insider

OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. - Glenn Moore couldn't have seen this coming. And if he did, he would have closed his eyes and prayed that it wasn't real.

Starting with a disastrous first inning that had two errors lead to three unearned runs, and finishing with a pinch-hit grand slam homer in the fifth, the 13th-seeded Baylor Lady Bears opened the Women's College World Series on Thursday with an "embarrassing" 11-0 run-rule loss to the fifth-seeded Florida Gators.

"That was embarrassing," said Moore, whose team fell to 47-15 with its first run-rule loss since falling to Texas A&M, 8-0, in last year's region final in College Station. "I thought this team was as prepared as any team I've brought to the World Series, with a better chance of winning than the two previous teams. But yet we played worse than any team, at least in the initial game."

Freshman pinch-hitter Chelsea Herndon put an end to the Lady Bears' misery when she blasted a 1-2 offering from former Lewisville (Texas) Hebron High School teammate Heather Stearns over the center-field wall for a grand-slam homer on her first World Series at-bat.

"I went up there with a clear mind," Herndon said. "I wasn't going to let the nerves get a hold of me. When I saw a good pitch, I took a hack at it. . . . It was down the middle, something that looked good; definitely what I was looking for."

Baylor's struggles started in the first inning. After a one-out bloop single to center by Kirsti Merritt, Lauren Haeger hit a grounder to third that looked tailor-made for an inning-ending double play. But third baseman Sarah Smith's throw to second was high and behind Ari Hawkins, leaving runners on the corners with one out.

"We could write a book on the mistakes we made today," Moore said.

Stephanie Tofft drove in one run with a sacrifice fly to center, and then Baily Castro followed up a walk to Briana Little with a two-run double to right-center field. Suddenly, the Lady Bears found themselves in unfamiliar territory, facing a 3-0 deficit after one inning.

"I don't feel like the team was freaking out about it," said senior All-American pitcher Whitney Canion (31-10), who gave up five runs (two earned) on four hits and two walks with two strikeouts in 3.1 innings. "It wasn't like, 'Oh, we're on this stage.' I don't think it had anything to do with it. We had a miscue and they hit a few balls hard, and one thing led to another."

Just five days earlier, Baylor had rallied from one-run deficits three times in completing a sweep of Georgia with a 6-3 road win. But the Lady Bears never came close against the Gators (51-12), who advance to Friday's winner's bracket game at 6 against top-seeded Oregon (55-7).

"I felt like we were sucker-punched quick, and we didn't respond," Moore said. "It was more what we did to ourselves than what Florida did to us. I thought they played a great game, and we played maybe the worst game that I've been a part of coaching in four or five years. You just can't play that way at this level and have a chance to win."

Senior catcher Clare Hosack looked like she would answer with a solo homer to lead off the second, but Little caught it at the wall in left field. That's the kind of day it was.

That same inning, Smith smashed a ball off pitcher Hannah Rogers (27-8) that bounced directly to shortstop Katie Medina for a routine 1-6-3 groundout.

"That's softball," said Baylor junior shortstop Jordan Strickland, who had the Lady Bears' only hit out of the infield. "You're going to hit the ball hard, and that's their job. We're in the World Series, and their job is to make defensive plays. As an offense, we need to keep hitting those balls and keep hacking at 'em. I thought we tried; they just kept making great plays."

Strickland led off the third with a hard-hit single through the circle, but she was left stranded at first base when Rogers came back to strike out Lindsey Cargill and Kaitlyn Thumann.

"She approached each batter with a specific plan, and she nibbled around the zone," Strickland said of Rogers, a third-team All-American who picked up her 124th career victory. "As hitters, we didn't know what (the umpire) was going to call and what we were going to swing at. I felt like we hit a lot of balls hard. We just have to make it happen next time."

The Gators tacked on another run when Merritt led off the bottom of the third with a shot to center field for her 12th homer of the season. As a team, Florida ranks among the national leaders with 85.

Moore said Canion's velocity, which usually tops out in the upper 60s, was down below 65. "And you have those days. Sometimes you're not going to throw as hard. She didn't have it today, and our defense didn't back her up."

With a bunt single by Hawkins and a hard shot by Linsey Hays that bounced away from Tofft at third base, the Lady Bears had a chance to get back in the game with Smith at the plate. But Tofft deftly fielded a hard-hit grounder and tagged out Hawkins for the final out.

Rogers worked a 1-2-3 fifth, and then watched as her Gators put it away with six more runs off Stearns.

A one-out double by Munro in the fourth ended Canion's day after 81 pitches. Stearns retired Medina on a foul pop-up that Smith bobbled and caught, but Kelsey Stewart came back from a 0-2 count, fouled off three pitches and then roped an RBI single to center that plated Munro for a 5-0 lead.

And then in the fifth, Stearns got two-strike counts on five of the six batters she faced, but was unable to get an out.

Haeger led off with a single to left, followed by a Tofft double to the right-field corner that barely stayed inside the first-base bag. After Little loaded the bases with an infield single, Hawkins' throw home on a fielder's choice grounder was too late to get pinch-runner Jessica Damico.

The Gators made it 7-0 when Stearns plunked Taylor Schwarz with a 0-2 pitch and ended it with Herndon's third home run of the season.

"I felt like our players came in confident, calm, under control, and we warmed up well," said Florida coach Tim Walton, whose team is in the World Series for the sixth time in seven years. "And how about a freshman in her first at-bat at the College World Series hitting a grand slam off one of her former teammates? That was good stuff."

After a day off, Baylor will play third-ranked and eighth-seeded Florida State (55-8) at 11 a.m. Saturday. The Seminoles fell into the losers' bracket with a 3-0 loss to top-seeded Oregon.

"We'll fight back, I have no doubt," Moore said. "It's a big test. We're not done. It's a double-elimination tournament. Whether you lose by one run or by 11, it's still a loss. One good thing about it is Whit didn't have to throw 169 pitches, so she'll rest tomorrow, and we'll fight our way back through the losers' bracket."

Here is a link to the boxscore from Thursday's Baylor-Florida softball game.

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