Baylor will try to reach the Women’s College World Series for the fourth time in school history, but standing in the way is one of the most prestigious programs in college softball history.
No. 2 Arizona has won the World Series eight times under coach Mike Candrea but none since 2007. Only UCLA has won more national championships with 11.
The No. 15 Lady Bears know they’re fighting history and tradition as they open the best-of-three Super Regional at 8 p.m. Friday at Hillenbrand Memorial Stadium in Tucson.
“Their No. 1 strength is the number of national championships the program has,” said Baylor coach Glenn Moore. “That’s a mentality you can’t put a value on. They expect to win. Having said that, they haven’t been to the World Series in quite a few years. The pressure is probably even greater for a program like that to be there.”
Since Arizona’s last World Series appearance in 2010, the Lady Bears (46-12) have been there twice in 2011 and 2014. Baylor beat Georgia in Athens both seasons to get there, so Moore’s teams are no strangers to going on the road to win the Super Regional.
Since the Lady Bears opened this season at the Hillenbrand Invitational, they have some familiarity with the stadium. The Wildcats (51-7) took a 4-0 win over Baylor on Feb. 11, but it was a one-run game until Arizona scored three runs in the sixth as Dejah Mulipola blasted a two-run homer off Kelsee Selman.
Selman (23-8) will be back in the circle for the Lady Bears in Friday’s opener, and she’s glad she’s pitched at Arizona’s home ballpark before.
“We’ve played them before this year and we saw what they have,” Selman said. “We’re ready to go out there and just compete and play our Baylor softball game. I’m definitely very confident. Our strengths are some of their weaknesses. So we should go out there and do really well.”
After sweeping three games in the Waco regional, Baylor will come into the series with considerable confidence. Selman threw a four-hitter in a 4-2 win over James Madison in the second game of the regional, but Baylor’s weekend was highlighted by a pair of no-hitters by sophomore Gia Rodoni in 1-0 wins over Kent State and James Madison.
Rodoni (17-2) will likely start the second game of the series at 8 p.m. Saturday. A third game will follow at 6 p.m. Sunday if necessary.
“We’ve talked about this a good bit how in previous years we’ve really ridden one arm at least until we got in the losers bracket,” Moore said. “But we’ve got two pitchers we’re very confident in right now. Of course, Gia couldn’t be throwing the ball any better than she is now and Kelsee has been consistent and really got us here this year. That certainly gives your team more confidence offensively and defensively to go into a situation like that.”
Selman will face off against Arizona ace Danielle O’Toole who is 29-4 with a 1.02 ERA in 35 appearances this season. The left-hander threw a five-hit shutout and collected seven strikeouts in the first game against the Lady Bears this season.
Arizona also has a strong No. 2 pitcher in left-hander Taylor McQuillin who is 16-3 with a 1.72 ERA.
“We’ve seen good lefties in conference,” Moore said. “Teams like Oklahoma have prepared us for them, and having seen them (Arizona) earlier helps as well. I like where we are. I honestly feel that looking back over the season we’re at the best spot we can be right now.”
Like Baylor, Arizona has productive hitters throughout the lineup as shown by its .341 team batting average. But the Wildcats feature much more power as they’ve blasted 93 homers to Baylor’s 35.
Katiyana Mauga ranks second nationally with 24 homers and has collected 60 RBIs while Jessie Harper has amassed 19 homers and 52 RBIs. Alyssa Palomino is another power hitter with 16 homers and 53 RBIs while Mulipola has 12 homers and 49 RBIs and Mo Mercado has 10 homers and 49 RBIs.
“Mauga has hit a lot of home runs, so just keeping the ball where she can’t hit it out is one of the big things,” Selman said. “Basically making quality pitches and the defense making big plays, and we’ll win the game. I’m just ready to go out there and attack and do the best I can for the team. If I can’t get it done I know Gia’s right there. But I plan to get it done.”
In sharp contrast, the Lady Bears have just two players with double-digit homers as Shelby Friudenberg and Shelby McGlaun have hit 10 apiece. But Baylor has much more speed on the basepaths with 107 stolen bases compared to Arizona’s 19.
Lindsey Cargill leads Baylor with 34 stolen bases while Kyla Walker has 18 and Jessie Scroggins 17. Cargill leads the Lady Bears with a .449 batting average followed by Walker at .413 and Scroggins at .364.
Arizona swept three games in its regional by a combined 25-0 score. But the Lady Bears believe they’re ready to take on the powerful Wildcats and all of their tradition.
“It’s more fun because they have a legacy out there,” Walker said. “So if we upset them it’s a big deal. We have really big confidence. No matter who starts we have confidence we can win if we score the runs.”