CARDIAC COMEBACK: Lady Bears Rally From 7-0 Deficit to Nip 'Cats, 8-7June 1, 2014
By Jerry Hill
Baylor Bear Insider
OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. - Noah Webster, himself, couldn't come up with the words to describe this one. And I sure can't.
Seemingly on their last leg, their last toe, their last cuticle, the Baylor Lady Bears inexplicably found a way to dig out of a 7-0 hole in the final two innings and then stunned the Kentucky Wildcats with a walk-off bunt in the eighth as they stayed alive in the Women's College World Series with an 8-7 win Saturday night at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium.
"Wow! I won't forget that one until I forget who I am," said Baylor head coach Glenn Moore, whose 13th-seeded team started the day with a 7-2 win over Florida State. "These girls are incredible. They just didn't quit believing. For five innings, we weren't even in the game. That's why you play seven (innings), I guess. I just thought we were facing a team destined to win; nothing we could do about it."
But, they could. And they did.
Through the first five innings, Kentucky pitcher Kelsey Nunley (30-11) was tossing a three-hit shutout and looked dominant doing it. Going inside on Baylor's hitters, she had them sawing off weak grounders or pop-ups or just missing completely.
And while Nunley was having her way, Baylor All-American Whitney Canion struggled for the second straight time and didn't even get out of the second inning. She gave up second-inning home runs to Emily Gaines and 9-hole hitter Ginny Carroll and walked off the field with her team trailing 3-0.
"At the beginning of the game, we couldn't throw it anywhere in a strike zone the size of a refrigerator that they couldn't hit," Moore said. "I've never seen a team free-swing the way they were at everything we let go of, and were hitting it. With Whit, we tried every pitch, tried everything with her, and they were just hitting it."
Back-to-back singles by Krystal Smith and Emily Jolly and an error led to two runs off reliever Liz Paul in the fourth, and the Wildcats (50-19) made it 7-0 in the sixth on a Smith home run and a successful double steal.
"If a team's going to throw the towl in, that would be a situation where they would," Moore said. "And this team refused to."
Before the bottom of the sixth, Baylor's senior leaders pulled the team together and said, "This is not going to be our last game," freshman second baseman Ari Hawkins said. "I mean that put the scare in me. I just took that to heart, and I was not going to go out losing."
Hawkins got the rally started with a leadoff bunt single in the sixth, followed by a Holly Holl single to left as the players simply "passed the bat." The Lady Bears kept it going with RBI singles by Linsey Hays, Jordan Strickland and Lindsey Cargill, giving the team life at 7-3.
But with the bases loaded and the tying run at the plate, Nunley struck out Kaitlyn Thumann to leave the runners stranded.
"Anytime you're down seven runs, you're going to get frustrated, you're going to get upset," Hawkins said. "I just think we took the whole 360. We were not going to lose. We really wanted to stay, and really are competitive fighters at heart, so we just weren't going to give up."
Called on to stop the bleeding in the sixth, sophomore pitcher Heather Stearns (15-4) worked a perfect 1-2-3 inning in the top of the seventh and kept what little hope the Lady Bears had alive.
Before the final inning, Moore said he turned to his son, Ty, in the dugout and asked him, "You aren't going to cry after this, are you?"
"And he said, 'Cry? We're going to win!' And I was like, 'Yeah, that's the kind of faith I need right now.'''
That childlike faith proved not to be unfounded.
Hawkins, who had not homered since April 13, led off the seventh with a no-doubter blast to left field that cut it to a 7-4 deficit.
"It was hit with authority, too," Moore said. "It seemed to be at the right moment, just when you think it's too late to get anything going."
Kentucky second baseman Krystal Smith, who had made only six errors for the game, booted a grounder by Holl that opened the door even more.
"We pretty much went through the World Series without making mistakes, defensively, and we made a few," said Kentucky coach Rachel Lawson. "There were a few plays that hurt us, and some of them went down as hits, but they were plays that we were making earlier. I don't think we look to one play."
Nunley struck out Clare Hosack and retired Hays on a grounder to first that moved Holl into scoring position at second. With the Lady Bears down to their final out, Sarah Smith drilled an RBI double into the right-field corner and Strickland walked, putting the tying runs on base.
Sophomore DP Robin Landrith got down to her last strike before blasting a shot to the wall in left-center field, plating Smith and Strickland and knotting the game at 7-7.
"I thought it had a chance (to go out)," said Landrith, who has hit two homers this season. "I hit it square on the barrel. It had a chance, and it tied up the game, that's all I can ask for. . . . She was throwing me outside, and I was definitely looking there. At that point my at-bat, I was down two strikes and two outs, and I thought this could be my last at-bat of the season, so don't strike out looking. So, I swung."
"That would have been great to end it right there," Moore said.
Freshman Lindsey Cargill nearly ended it two pitches later when she lined a hard shot to third that was flagged down by Nikki Sagermann, sending the game into extra innings.
"The door was open, and they stepped in; they ran in it," Moore said. "I could go down the lineup and call out player after player that just passed the bat to the next one and did something to contribute to it."
Obviously pumped up, Stearns worked another 1-2-3 inning and struck out Carroll to keep the game tied going to the bottom of the eighth.
"When your team is backing you like that, you have to go out there and do it for them, too," she said. "For a team to come back and score seven runs is amazing. Just as a pitcher, you want to give your team that support and shut them down since they're trying so hard."
Thumann, hitless in the Series, opened the bottom of the eighth with a double to the gap in right-center field to put the winning run in scoring position.
And then, facing a two-strike count, Hawkins laid down a sac bunt in front of the plate. Catcher Griffin Joiner's throw to first hit Hawkins in the left hand and dribbled out into the outfield as Thumann rounded third and scored the winning run before getting mobbed by her teammates.
"We're going to ride the wave for a little while," Moore said. "We're going to enjoy it for a little while. I'm not going to bring 'em back down; that's crazy. We're going to play ball for as long as we can and as hard as we can."
Back in the semifinals for the second time in four years, the Lady Bears will face fifth-seeded Florida (52-12) at noon Sunday, with an if-necessary game at 6 p.m. Baylor has to win two against the Gators, who handed them an 11-0, run-rule loss three days ago, to make it to a best-of-three championship series against the Alabama-Oregon winner.
"Having played them, I know a little bit about them," Moore said. "Florida is playing really well; they'll be really tough to beat. But we know one thing: We'll play a better game than we played in the initial game against them."
In Saturday's other games, defending national champion Oklahoma eliminated Louisiana-Lafayette, 3-1, and then had its season and reign come to an end with a 4-2 loss to Oregon.
Here is a link to the boxscore from Saturday's Baylor-Kentucky softball game.
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