After its Super Regional stunner in the Arizona desert, Baylor coach Glenn Moore called his team the toughest he’s ever coached.
That wasn’t just Moore’s emotions speaking after watching his team rally in the late innings to win the last two games over the No. 2 national seed.
No. 15 Baylor overcame extraordinary odds to reach the fourth Women’s College World Series in program history. The Lady Bears will face No. 10 Oklahoma at 8:30 p.m. Thursday at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium in Oklahoma City.
This might be Moore’s best coaching job in 17 years at Baylor. His first World Series team in 2007 had the luxury of playing Michigan at Getterman Stadium in the Super Regional and was loaded with sluggers like Ashley Monceaux, Brette Reagan and Chelsi Lake. The 2011 and 2014 World Series teams featured All-American Whitney Canion, the best pitcher in school history.
While this year’s team has its share of talent, its greatest attribute is sheer will and a belief it can win anywhere against anybody.
As impressive as Baylor was in winning Super Regionals over Georgia in Athens in 2011 and 2014, beating the Wildcats on their turf was an even bigger accomplishment.
Arizona is one of the most successful programs in college softball history with eight national championships, second only to UCLA’s 11.
The Lady Bears weren’t just battling history and tradition, they were battling a hungry team that was eager to reach its first World Series since 2010. The Wildcats seemingly had everything in their favor, including confidence from a 4-0 win over Baylor in a season opening tournament at Hillenbrand Memorial Stadium.
What Arizona didn’t have was Baylor’s ability to deliver in dire situations. After Friday’s 3-2 opening loss, the Lady Bears rallied in the late innings in the last two games to pull off 6-4 and 6-5 wins in one of the most hostile environments in college softball.
While Moore was confident in his team, he thought the Wildcats’ lofty expectations might have worked against them.
“I felt this team could play with any team in the country on any given day,” Moore said. “I thought we had two warriors for pitchers. At the same time, if you have to pick someone you do not want to go through, it’s the University of Arizona. Their tradition, their expectations. But I felt that maybe the pressure for them to get back (to the World Series) might work in our favor.”
Arizona appeared to have the momentum in each of the last two games, only to watch the Lady Bears snatch it away. After the Wildcats scored a pair of sixth-inning runs in Game 2, the Lady Bears answered with a four in the bottom of the inning as Sydney Christensen and Taylor Ellis drilled run-scoring doubles.
Game 3 was even more dramatic. After the Wildcats scored a pair of sixth-inning runs to take a 5-3 lead, Baylor responded in the seventh as Ari Hawkins doubled and Shelby Friudenberg drew an intentional walk.
Then freshman Shelby McGlaun delivered the biggest moment of the Super Regional when she sent a three-run homer over the center-field fence to give Baylor a dramatic 6-5 win.
“The thing about this team is that I knew they would battle back,” said Baylor pitcher Kelsee Selman. “I knew the perfect people were coming up, like Ari and Shelby and Goose (McGlaun). I believe in them. I knew we would battle and never surrender, which that’s been our motto this year.”
Selman and Gia Rodoni gave up their share of baserunners, but made enough clutch pitches to keep the Wildcats from letting games get out of hand. Arizona left the bases loaded in the fifth and sixth innings in the final game.
Now the Lady Bears face Big 12 rival Oklahoma first in the World Series. The defending national champions will have everything going for them, including a major home-field advantage in their own backyard.
But the Lady Bears have proven they can win when nobody thinks they can. Just ask Arizona. There’s no reason to think this determined team is going to stop winning now.