Baylor & Oregon Advance to WCWS Semifinals

Baylor, Oregon advance to Softball World Series Semifinals

OKLAHOMA City, Okla. – The message on the video board at the ASA Hall of Fame Stadium Saturday told the story. There is magic on the field tonight, the message read. There was magic, at least for the Baylor Bears, who didn't give up when it looked bad and now find themselves in one of two semifinals Sunday in the Women's College World Series after an epic 8-7 eight inning win over Kentucky. The Fan Appreciation Night drew a crowd of 9,192, which was the third highest session crowd attendance in WCWS history and a record for session five.  

The Bears, the Big 12 runner-up, will face Florida at noon (CT) in the first semifinal while No. 1 seeded and No. 1 ranked Oregon will face No. 2 seed Alabama in the second semi at 2:30 p.m. Oregon, which defeated defending champion Oklahoma 4-2 Saturday night, will need to beat Alabama twice to advance to the championship series, which will begin Monday night. The Bears also will need to defeat Florida twice if they want to vie for the national championship.

Baylor (49-15) trailed 7-0 heading into the bottom of the sixth inning before scoring three runs in the sixth, four in the seventh, and Kaitlyn Thumann scored the winning run on a sacrifice bunt laid down by Ari Hawkins with two strikes in the bottom of the eighth to win the game.

Kentucky (50-19) catcher Griffin Joiner fielded Hawkins’ bunt, which advanced Thumann to third, but her throw went off the glove of first baseman Lauren Cumbess into right field and Thumann raced home.

The Wildcats and UK starter Kelsey Nunley held Baylor scoreless for the first five innings and scored seven runs through the top of the sixth inning. But, Linsey Hays, Jordan Strickland and Lindsey Cargill all provided RBI singles in the bottom of the sixth to cut the lead to 7-3. Thumann struck out swinging with the bases loaded in the bottom of the sixth, but would get redemption later.

Heather Stearns, in relief of Whitney Canion and Liz Paul, then set the Wildcats down in order in the top of the seventh. The Lady Bears’ heroics continued in the seventh when Ari Hawkins took a 1-0 pitch of Nunley deep to left centerfield over the wall to cut the lead to three. Then, Sarah Smith doubled home Holly Holl to cut the lead to two with one out.

Strickland walked to put runners on first and second with one out, and Robin Landrith, the left-handed hitter, took a 2-2 pitch deep to opposite field for a double, which scored both Strickland and Holl to knot the score. Cargill almost ended the game, but her hard line drive was caught by KU third baseman Nikki Sagermann to end the inning. Stearns went back to work in the top of the eighth forcing two pop ups before striking out Ginny Carroll to end the KU half of the inning.

Thumann, who has been Baylor’s leading hitter all season, had been 0-for-9 at the plate in the WCWS before she pulled an 0-2 pitch into the right centerfield gap to start the bottom of the eighth inning. Baylor head coach Glenn Moore then signaled with two strikes for Hawkins to bunt, and the winning play transpired.

Stearns, who hadn’t had a win since May 3rd, prior to Saturday, picked up two WCWS wins in one day in BU’s wins over Florida State 7-2 and Kentucky to improve to 15-4. She hurled 2.1 innings against Kentucky, allowing no runs on one hit and no walks while striking out one. Senior Whitney Canion started in the circle for the Bears and gave up three runs on three hits and one walk in 1.2 innings. Senior Liz Paul replaced Canion and hurled four innings. She gave up four runs on six hits and one walk while striking out three.

Baylor coach Glenn Moore praised Stearns for her performance. "I thought it's amazing that she hadn't pitched in a month and she had two World Series win. I'm very proud of her. She did a great job keeping her composure that long and not letting the game get away from her and pitching the way she did in these two outings today. I think the future of Baylor softball is in pretty good hands." Stearns is a sophomore.

Nunley was the losing pitcher for Kentucky, making its first appearance in the WCWS, and finished the year 50-19. She was 30-11 for the year and allowed 13 hits and three walks while striking out five. Only four of Baylor's runs were earned.

OU, which was seeking to repeat as national champion since Arizona did in 2006-7, advanced to play Oregon after beating Louisiana-Lafayette, 3-1, behind Kelsey Stevens who became the single season record holder with her 38th win against nine losses. Stevens allowed six hits and three walks while striking out seven.

Oklahoma took a 2-0 first inning lead on a double by Brittany Williams that scored junior Shleby Pendley and junior Lauren Chamberlain. The double was Williams' seventh of the season and increased her RBI total to 55.

Oklahoma junior Callie Parsons hit an inside-the-park homer in the bottom of the sixth inning for OU's third and final run. The homer was the first of her career (193 at bats) and the second in WCWS history. The first was by UCLA's Andrea Duran in the third inning of a 2-0 win against Texas on June 3, 2006.

Louisiana-Lafayette scored its only run on a solo homer by catcher Lexie Elkins with a blast to right field in the top of the seventh. It was her sixth hit and the sixth homer in the preseason. Her 24 homers ranks second in ULL school history. ULL stranded 11 base runners to finish 49-10-1.

Against Oregon, OU, which ended with a 51-13 record, their fourth-highest win total in a season in program history, trailed 4-2 going into the seventh and had the tying run on base and the potential winning run at the plate. Sophomore Whitney Ellis led off with a single to left field to snap a 0-16 hitting slump. A groundout moved Ellis to second and two batters later junior Shelby Pendley reached on an infield single to put runners on the corners with two outs. Unfortunately for OU, a groundout to shortstop turned into a force play at second to end the game and the season.

Oregon took a 3-0 lead in the third inning. With two on and one out, Janie Takeda hit a run-scoring double to left center to chase OU starter Shelby Pendley. With sophomore Stevens on in relief, Kailee Cuico hit a grounder to the hole at shortstop that deflected off junior Jessica Vest as she slid to make a backhanded stop. The ball kicked away and allowed two more runners to score.

Oklahoma cut into the lead in the fourth inning. Junior Georgia Casey led off the frame by collecting the Sooners’ first hit of the contest with a sharp single to center field. Sophomore Erin Miller went back-to-back with Casey as she singled back up the middle, moving Casey to third.

After a steal of second by Miller and a foul out, junior Jessica Vest dropped an RBI single into shallow left center to score Casey and make it 3-1. With sophomore Whitney Ellis batting, Miller was picked off third on a failed squeeze attempt. Vest reached second on the play, but a groundout ended the threat.

The Sooners trimmed the lead to 3-2 in the fifth when Pendley connected on a towering home run to right field. It was the 60th of her career, 41st as a Sooner and her team-best 19th long-ball of the season.

Oregon added an insurance run in the seventh on a run-scoring single by Takeda. Left-hander Sheridan Hawkins got the win for the Ducks to increase her record to 34-5 while Pendley (2-1) took the loss for OU.