Coming into the College Station regional, Baylor’s margin of error was so tiny that everything had to go according to plan for any shot to advance to the Super Regional.
Ace Gia Rodoni had to be near perfect, and she was in Saturday night’s 6-0 win over McNeese State as she threw her third postseason no-hitter to reach the championship game
But Baylor’s defense was riddled with issues since senior catcher Carlee Wallace was out with a concussion and senior third baseman Caitlin Charlton had been gone for more than a month after a season-ending knee injury.
“You need to be good this time of year, and it’s hard to be good when you’re playing musical chairs with your players and expecting them to do things that they haven’t been training for all year,” said Baylor coach Glenn Moore. “You can only work so many kids in so many positions to have them ready for this, and we just had to do too much of that.”
Following a six-hour weather delay, Rodoni kept the Lady Bears competitive with Texas A&M through four innings in Sunday night’s championship game.
But when one overturned call went against Baylor, the floodgates opened for the Aggies as they scored seven fifth-inning runs en route to a 10-4 win to advance to the Super Regional against SEC rival Florida.
After Sarah Hudek opened the inning with a single, Tori Vidales swung on Rodoni’s third-strike pitch in the dirt. Baylor freshman catcher Hannah Thompson threw high to first baseman Shelby Friudenberg. First base umpire Cody Little ruled that Friudenberg had gotten her foot down on the base and Vidales was out.
But after Texas A&M coach Jo Evans argued the call, home plate umpire Dustin Douglass overturned the decision and ruled Vidales safe. Moore unsuccessfully disputed the overruled call.
“It was a call made at first base and overruled by a guy 60 feet away, and that led to us snowballing out of the inning,” Moore said. “It’s a seven-run inning, and that was the big difference in the game right there. I just felt like I was fighting for the call. We had a strikeout, and it ends up seven runs later.”
Kelbi Fortenberry followed with a run-scoring double to right field for a 3-3 tie. After a walk to Ashley Walters to load the bases, Rodoni got the next two outs before walking Kristen Cuyos to force in a run. Texas A&M broke it open when Erica Russell drilled a three-run double to right field to knock Rodoni out of the game.
Samantha Show greeted reliever Regan Green with a tape-measure two-run homer over the left-field fence to open up a 9-3 lead.
“Gia is exhausted,” Moore said. “She gave us everything she had, and we’ve had to rely on her most of the year. She just didn’t get enough help. Gia’s had to be the one that would carry us at this point in time, and we needed to have been able to rest her a little more than we have not only for this weekend, but for the last few weeks.”
Moore blamed himself for over-coaching in Baylor’s 11-10 tournament-opening loss to McNeese State on Friday. With Baylor’s injuries, he decided to move shortstop Taylor Ellis to catcher, rightfielder Maddison Kettler to shortstop, and place Madi O’Neal in right field.
The plan backfired as the Lady Bears tied their season high with four errors. But for the final three games of the series, the Lady Bears didn’t make an error as Moore put Ellis back at shortstop and Kettler returned to right field while Thompson stepped in at catcher.
“Friday night will haunt me a long time in my memory,” Moore said. “But you know we responded and I’m proud of how they responded.”
Though the Lady Bears didn’t reach their goal of returning to the Women’s College World Series for the second straight season, they still enjoyed a solid year as they finished 38-18 and tied Oklahoma State for second in the Big 12 at 12-6. They also reached the Big 12 tournament championship game for the first time before losing to Oklahoma.
Looking forward to next season, Baylor will have to replace four seniors including centerfielder Jessie Scroggins, Friudenberg, Charlton and Wallace.
Scroggins set Baylor’s single-season hitting record with a .461 average this year and is the school’s career hits leader with 277 while playing phenomenal defense.
“I don’t think I could have gone out any better than that,” Scroggins said. “I did the best I could, I left it all on the field, and that’s just kind of how it ended.”
Friudenberg slugged her 49th homer and finished with 194 RBIs to extend her Baylor career records in both categories.
“I think all of us seniors have grown throughout the four years, and we just gave it all we had,” Friudenberg said. “It was the best four years. There were ups and downs throughout the seasons, but teammates make it great.”
Charlton was a superb defensive player for the Lady Bears while Wallace filled a big need at catcher as a senior after transferring from Auburn.
“They (Baylor’s seniors) put some numbers in the book that will stick for a long time,” Moore said. “CC (Charlton) didn’t put too many offensive numbers up but she was an anchor. Whatever we asked her to do she played hard. She was kind of a silent leader, and that was very viable and tangible what she had. She could play defense with anybody.”
After making NCAA regionals for the eighth straight year, Moore is hoping to continue to build the program with a core of dynamic returning players like Rodoni, Ellis, Kettler, Thompson, outfielder Kyla Walker and infielders Goose McGlaun and Nicky Dawson.
Rodoni has a chance to become one of the top pitchers in the country after a 23-12 junior season. McGlaun enjoyed a tremendous sophomore year as she hit .323 with a team-high 14 homers and 51 RBIs.
Walker is Baylor’s all-time leading hitter with a .422 average in three seasons while Dawson delivered an outstanding sophomore year after transferring from LSU by hitting .347 while playing solid defense at second base.
Thompson has a tremendous upside after coming on late in her freshman season to finish with a .259 batting average with three homers and 13 RBIs. She blasted a two-run homer on Friday night against McNeese State.
“Hannah we knew was a hitter,” Moore said. “We recruited her as a hitter and of course she had arm surgery the year before she came to Baylor. The arm strength is a key for her to play (at catcher). She can either be a DP for us or hopefully get her arm back to where it was.”
Moore believes he’ll have more pitching depth next year with Regan Green returning from a 12-5 sophomore season and the addition of hard-throwing former Abilene Christian and Temple College right-hander Sidney Holman and Kingwood High School left-hander Maddie Lindsey.
Tyler Trott, who played softball and baseball at Little Axe High School in Norman, Okla., could play third base for the Lady Bears with McGlaun moving to first base. Incoming Friendswood freshman Kendall Cross could also challenge at first base.
Outfielder Lou Gilbert from Staley High School in Kansas City and utility player Casey Shell from Olathe (Kan.) South High School could make a quick impact at Baylor.
“I’ve got nine new players coming in and some good talent in this class,” Moore said. “We’ll certainly be young, but I think we’ll be stronger in the circle and that will be necessary after losing four seniors.”