OKLAHOMA CITY – Baylor coach Glenn Moore could see his team was exhausted and frayed after its season-ending 7-4 loss to Oregon on a rainy Saturday at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium.
The Lady Bears had surpassed all expectations by reaching the Women’s College World Series. Now they were out after two straight losses with their goal of winning it all unfulfilled.
“I think this team gave everything they had to be where we are and have a chance,” Moore said. “They’re gimpy right now. We’re on adrenaline right now. I think they’re empty. They’re not happy and that’s good. We want to win this dang thing.”
After stunning No. 2 Arizona in the Tucson Super Regional, the Lady Bears thought they could bring that momentum to Oklahoma City. But they were shot down in Thursday night’s World Series opener, 6-3, by defending national champion Oklahoma that was playing before a home crowd.
Then they ran into an Oregon squad that many observers thought was the best team in the country much of the year. It was clear that Baylor played on the toughest side of the World Series bracket since Oklahoma, Oregon and Washington made the semifinals.
The Lady Bears gave themselves a chance in the bottom of the seventh as they loaded the bases with no outs and the heart of the order coming up. But reliever Oregon Megan Kleist used a devastating changeup to strike out Ari Hawkins and Shelby Friudenberg before forcing Shelby McGlaun to ground out to end the game.
McGlaun had sent the Lady Bears to the World Series with a dramatic three-run homer in the seventh inning of a 6-5 series finale win against Arizona. But this time the Lady Bears couldn’t deliver the knockout blow.
“What you just saw, although it didn’t come through, was the same basic scenario that we beat Arizona with,” Moore said. “One swing of the bat with three of our best hitters gave us an opportunity to do that. So I was pretty optimistic that we were going to make a run. The table was set. But the changeup changes everything.”
Saturday was the last game for seniors Lindsey Cargill, Hawkins, Kelsee Selman and Riley Browder.
Cargill finished her career with an All-American season in which she hit a school-record .430 and set a Baylor career record with 253 hits. Selman enjoyed an all-Big 12 season as she finished 24-9 while Hawkins also made all-conference as she hit .304 with five homers and 30 RBIs.
They were the leaders of a team that had a lot of question marks coming into the season after losing all-Big 12 pitcher Heather Stearns, third baseman Sarah Smith and outfielder Linsey Hays from last year’s team that lost to Oregon in the Eugene regional.
The biggest mystery was who would step into the ace role. But Selman’s improvement during the fall gave Moore confidence that she could have a big year and give the Lady Bears some hope that they could make their fourth World Series appearance and first since 2014.
“One person, Kelsee Selman, made me believe,” Moore said. “We knew what she was capable of. We had seen her pitch some games (for LSU) in the SEC that we saw what we saw here. Of course, last year would scare you away a little bit. But we had also seen her compete in high school and travel ball, so we knew what was there. So there was hope and coaches optimism that she would get it together. She far surpassed what we had hoped for in that regard.”
The Lady Bears opened a lot of eyes when they beat four nationally-ranked teams – Arizona State, Michigan, Washington and UCLA – in the Judi Garman Classic in Fullerton, Calif., in early March.
They finished second in the Big 12 with a 13-5 record behind Oklahoma and earned the No. 15 national seed to land an NCAA regional host site.
Playing against a strong regional field, Baylor swept all three games as sophomore Gia Rodoni threw no-hitters against Kent State and James Madison in 1-0 wins. Then the Lady Bears rallied from a one-game deficit to beat Arizona in the last two games of the Super Regional.
With Selman gone, Rodoni will step into the ace role next season after finishing 18-4 with a team-best 1.72 ERA.
“She threw some great ballgames, and two no-hitters on one weekend is phenomenal,” Moore said. “That’s stuff she can build off and reach back when she’s struggling a little bit.”
Despite the loss of Cargill and Hawkins, the bulk of Baylor’s offense will return.
After hitting .415 as a freshman, leftfielder Kyla Walker followed up with a .418 sophomore year. Centerfielder Jessie Scroggins hit .352 and was named Big 12 defensive player of the year. Friudenberg enjoyed another big year with a .345 average and 11 homers and 51 RBIs.
Baylor got huge contributions from freshmen Maddison Kettler, McGlaun and Taylor Ellis. Kettler hit .339 while McGlaun tied Friudenberg for the team lead with 11 homers and went 6-2 as Baylor’s third pitcher. Ellis showed her versatility by playing shortstop and catcher while hitting .256.
Catcher Sydney Christensen contributed six homers and shortstop Caitlin Charlton had some good moments. Moore hopes pitcher Kendall Potts and infielder Rhonda Jarvis can return from injuries.
Baylor signed four players in the fall, including outfielder Alyssa Avalos, pitcher Lexi Koltz, outfielder-infielder Hannah Smith and catcher Hannah Thompson.
Moore is looking forward to seeing how the Lady Bears build off this year’s World Series experience. After a trend of reaching the World Series every third year in 2011, 2014 and 2017, Moore would like to make it an annual event.
“The experience of being in a World Series is invaluable in many ways,” Moore said. “Of course it helps recruiting. We’ve got some unanswered questions like we do every year. We need to get healthy. We have some things that need to happen to get on the big stage again, but I certainly think they can. The expectations are still high.”