For a moment, it looked as if Baylor coach Glenn Moore and his Lady Bears were going to get burned under the 100 degree Tucson sun from their intentional walk strategy. Then it looked as if Arizona was going to capitalize on Baylor’s miscommunication and errors on the base path.
And when Baylor finally secured the lead back again, it briefly felt that Arizona was going to walk the Bears off again in the final frame.
Didn’t we tell you this was going to be an instant classic? And now the Bears are set to travel to Oklahoma City to play the Oklahoma Sooners after another come from behind victory over the Wildcats.
The Bears’ offense did exactly what they needed to do: 1) use their speed to get on the base path and 2) have key situational hits from their power players. With the hard infield of the Arizona dirt, Baylor speedsters such as Kyla Walker and Ari Hawkins could get on base. Then the Bears’ big bats of Shelby Friudenberg and Shelby McGlaun could drive them in.
And that’s what happened early and that’s what happened late. Right from the get go, Walker added to her single season career hit record with an infield single and Hawkins’ speed forced a fielding error by third baseman Katiyana Mauga. Friudenberg followed with a strong double to left center to take the early 1-0 lead.
There was more of the same in the third inning when Hawkins got on with a bunt and Friudenberg kept a ball fair inside the left foul pole for a two-run home run.
And yet, Baylor looked doomed by the seventh innings, down 5-3 with only three outs remaining in their season. Arizona had used their full allotment of resources in their lineup to counterattack the intentional walks to Mauga and respond to the early runs given up by Danielle O’Toole.
The Bears were ultimately able to pull a victory from the jaws of defeat based on three decisions of coach Moore:
Starting senior pitcher Kelsee Selman
Coach Moore gave the nod to Selman for her third start in three days against the number two seeded Wildcats. The same dangerous hitters, the same lineup seeing Selman’s fastball, riser and change for the third consecutive day— but she does have previous WCWS experience from her time at LSU.
Selman was roughed up by Mauga and Mercado in Game 1, and then somehow labored through 134 pitches and six walks to throw a complete game in Game 2. Still Moore and his staff gave the senior the ball to go get the job done in Game 3.
Interesting to some when a second ace was sitting in the bullpen with two postseason no-hitters (something no other Baylor pitcher has ever accomplished) under her belt. The new postseason format change to having no doubleheaders in the super regionals must have also helped Selman get some much-deserved rest.
Moore kept reiterating in his post game interview that he felt that Selman was making good pitches in good spots so he was going to ride her to the finish line. And he had the best strategy to do so:
Intentionally walking Mauga
One of the ways that Moore helped Selman navigate the Arizona line up was to intentionally walk the best hitter in softball. After Mauga went 3-for-3 with a single, double and home run in Game 1 here was her combined stat line for the next two games:
0-for-1 with seven walks (six of which were intentional)
The only reason Mauga even received that one at-bat was because the bases were loaded in the bottom of the sixth and there was nowhere to put her. Mauga popped out to shallow center.
The Bears were lucky that the Mauga and the Wildcats didn’t do more damage to bust the game wide open. If they had, then Moore’s third move wouldn’t have been recognized:
Moving freshman Shelby McGlaun up in the batting order
In Game 1, the freshman McGlaun (or Goose) was hitting seventh in the lineup. By Sunday’s Game 3, coach Moore had moved her up to fifth right behind Friudenberg. To provide better protection to Baylor’s big hitting guns (just like Mo Mercado was to Mauga).
Baylor was staring a two-run deficit straight in the face, thanks in part to a base runner gaffe where Taylor Ellis did not step on third base as she rounded for home. A potential 4-3 Baylor lead morphed into a 5-3 deficit as Selman struggled in the sixth and Gia Rodoni came in for what looked like the last two innings of relief (more on that in a minute).
So the Bears went back to the drawing board. Hawkins got a lead off double; and Friudenberg was intentionally walked as coach Mike Candrea returned the ‘avoid power hitters at all cost strategy’ to the coach Moore.
This ended up backfiring as Goose stepped into the box and nailed a 2-0 pitch over everything in straightaway center. The three-run home run (and ultimately the game-winner) gave the Bears the lead by the slimiest of margins right when all hope seemed lost.
It will rank right up there in Baylor softball lore with Holly Holl’s 2011 walk-off home run in the bottom of the 13th against Missouri as well as the seven-run comeback over Kentucky in 2014. Both of those were in the WCWS.
McGlaun’s home run turned out to be the game winner as Rodoni got the first out of the seventh of a batter she walked when catcher Sydney Christensen caught a wild pitch off the bounce of the netting behind home plate and threw a dart to second to prevent the runner from advancing.
But then Rodoni walked the next batter and after she threw a first pitch ball to the next coach Moore reinserted Selman into the game. She induced a fly out and harmless groundout to the eight hitter and a pinch hitter to clinch Baylor’s fourth ever trip to the WCWS and third in seven years.
Moore made all the right moves, his players made the timely plays and Baylor softball put another postseason instant classic in the books.