Category archive: Baylor Bears

Baylor pitcher Whitney Canion talks about the Bears' extra-inning win over Oklahoma State on the first day of the Women's College World Series.

CATHEDRAL CITY, Calif. -- From a backdrop of snow-capped mountains rising out of the desert to outfield walls mimicking Yankee Stadium, Wrigley Field and Fenway Park to smoke wafting from the barbecue stand, the Cathedral City Classic does its best to leave a lasting impression on the senses. And that's before you even get to the softball, featuring 12 members of the Top 25.

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Cathedral City Classic
Graham Hays/ESPN.comEleven of the top 25 teams saw action at the Cathedral City Classic.

Some highlights, with the caveat that these are pulled only from what I witnessed (which, with more than 100 total games going on, was more of a sampler platter).

Most Outstanding Player: Danielle Lawrie, Washington

More on Washington and Lawrie later this week, but the reigning USA Softball Player of the Year continues to play above the level of the rest of the college game. Through three weeks, she has 102 strikeouts and just five walks in 56 innings in the circle. In Cathedral City, she started and beat BYU (with a one-hit shutout), Fresno State and Oklahoma and earned a win with five relief innings against Oklahoma State.

"She's just tough," Washington coach Heather Tarr said. "And the cool thing about her in her fifth year is she's learned to be able to compete for every pitch. And that's so hard to do over 200, 300 pitches in one ballgame on both sides."

The mind-bending thing about all of it is that Lawrie has been equally impressive at the plate this season, with eight home runs, 19 RBIs and a .400 average in 13 games.

Most Outstanding Player (Non-Lawrie Division): Jessica Shults, Oklahoma

The race for All-American honors among catchers is going to be a treat to watch and a nightmare to decide for the next four years, with Shults, Texas A&M's Meagan May and California's Lindsey Ziegenhirt already entrenched as program cornerstones behind the plate as freshmen.

"She just looks like a veteran," Oklahoma coach Patty Gasso said of her entrant. "I'm waiting to see her stumble. We've been in huge games these last three weeks and she seems to get better as the game is bigger."

Even against a class of current catchers that includes Mississippi State's Chelsea Bramlett, Ohio State's Sam Marder, Arizona's Stacie Chambers and Louisville's Melissa Roth, Shults might have a shot at earning national honors this year. More on Oklahoma later this week, but when you touch up Lawrie for four RBIs in one game, just half of the freshman's weekend total in four games for the Sooners, you earn special distinction.

Most intriguing win: Baylor 9, UCLA 5

The Bears went 3-2 on the weekend, highlighted by Saturday's win against No. 3 UCLA, a result coach Glenn Moore called "one of our top games in the history of the program."

The intrigue comes from the way Moore parceled out the pitching duties for both that game and Sunday's 3-2 loss against No. 2 Arizona. Sophomore Whitney Canion sat out the first two weeks of the season because of a stress reaction in her pitching arm, similar to the injury in a different part of the arm that forced Moore to shut her down in last year's super regional at Michigan. The plan for Cathedral City was to have her throw 20, 40 and 60 pitches on successive days (she threw 19 on Friday against San Diego State, 72 against UCLA and 81 Sunday against Arizona) as she eased back into action.

Moore said the next step is for Canion to throw twice next weekend and then undergo an MRI. Depending on the results of that test and any pain she feels, the team will make a decision on whether or not to redshirt her.

If she's healthy, Baylor can't be overlooked. Last year's success was built on Canion's dominance, but the offense is off to a stellar start in 2010. The team hit 31 home runs in 1,650 at-bats last season but already has 15 in only 392 at-bats this season, including four each from Jordan Vannatta and Dani Leal. And as always with the Bears, they'll steal and slap their way to the extra bases they don't slug. Coming off last season's knee injury, Kayce Walker has eight steals in 15 games, and some around the program suggested freshman Kathy Shelton might be the fastest player of them all in Waco.

"All throughout our lineup people are capable of making some noise," Moore said. "I don't think we have an area in it that I'm really thinking that, 'We've got to get through this area to get to the top again.' I mean, we're capable of scoring runs throughout our lineup. So it's a pretty solid lineup -- not a scary lineup, but we have a lot of pressure with our speed and a couple of kids that are capable of hitting the ball out of the park."

Graham Hays covers softball for ESPN.com. E-mail him at Graham.Hays@espn3.com.

• There will be a lot of talk about the top of the ticket at this weekend's tournament hosted by the University of Alabama, which features a pair of games between No. 1 Washington and No. 3 Alabama. But Baylor, along with Georgia, will also be on hand in Tuscaloosa, and the Bears are starting to look like a team to watch.

Glenn Moore's team wrapped up a perfect weekend Sunday, albeit against unranked competition in Louisiana Tech, Louisiana-Monroe and Rutgers, and sits at 17-3 overall. A year after the Bears struggled to find quality innings in the circle following Lisa Ferguson's graduation, Whitney Canion is out of the gates quickly in the race for top freshman pitching honors. Canion is 10-2 with 117 strikeouts in 81 2/3 innings, including 15 strikeouts and a win in 13 innings against then-No. 1 Florida last month. To put those numbers in some perspective, last season's staff combined for 192 strikeouts in 306 1/3 innings.

• Houston slipped out of the Top 25 last week, and a month into the season, it's still looking for its second shutout of the post-Angel Shamblin era in the circle. But the Cougars did register one of last weekend's notable results in a 3-2 win against Michigan at the weather-shortened Leadoff Classic. Bailee Lott picked up the win for the Cougars, and with an offense averaging five runs per game against a quality schedule, they still have the tools to help out a pitching staff in rebuilding mode.

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Danielle Spaulding
Jeff Camarti/UNC Athletic Communications North Carolina's Danielle Spaulding has struck out 98 batters in 47 innings this season.

Texas A&M visits Houston in perhaps the best midweek offering on the national schedule, with the Aggies fresh off taking two of three from Arizona.

But beyond what should be an intriguing game in the battle for Lone Star bragging rights, it's also the third annual "Striking Out Breast Cancer" game at Houston's Cougar Softball Stadium. Cougar players will wear pink jerseys and batting helmets, which will be autographed and auctioned as part of a silent auction, with proceeds going to the Houston affiliate of the Susan G. Komen for the Cure charity.

For the third time in as many events, Veronica Nordstrom will throw out the ceremonial first pitch to her daughter, Elaina. The elder Nordstrom is a cancer survivor, and in last year's event, Elaina hit a walk-off grand slam against Texas.

• It's not easy to believe (or maybe that's just me who wonders where February went), but North Carolina kicks off ACC play with an important three-game set against Florida State in just six days. That series caps off a run of seven games in five days for the Tar Heels, who play Elon, Georgetown, Michigan State and Princeton this weekend.

The Tar Heels were washed out at the Tennessee classic last weekend, costing them a marquee game against the host Lady Vols, but the team from Chapel Hill has been rolling since a pair of one-run defeats in the opening week. Even the one loss in the interim, a 4-2 setback against Fresno State at the Cathedral City Classic, couldn't stop the Tar Heels for long. Trailing Oregon State a few hours after the Fresno game, UNC rallied for four runs in the top of the seventh and secured a 5-2 win.

That doesn't seem like the sign of a team stuck on last season's postseason disaster, which saw North Carolina go two-and-barbeque on its own field in regionals.

But perhaps it is indicative of a team that knows it can count on its runs to stand up behind Danielle Spaulding and Lisa Norris. The pitchers have allowed just 11 earned runs in 92 1/3 innings this season combined, splitting duties almost exactly equally.

"They're so solid when they go out on the mound," Papa said. "They're two really quality pitchers. They could be starters on any team, the No. 1 on any team. It's just that we have a good complement. And they all like each other and they get along well."

Spaulding, in particular, has been almost unhittable, allowing just 19 hits -- and only four extra-base hits -- in 47 innings, while striking out 98. The Californian throws the ball hard enough, reaching the mid-to-upper 60s in Cathedral City when there was a gun on her, but her ability to move the ball in both the vertical and horizontal planes is what catches the eye.

"My favorite and best pitch is the rise ball," Spaulding said. "I probably throw that 85 percent of the time. … Even when it's not on, I still throw it, just because that's my pitch. I mean, I usually always get a strike with that. That and the curveball is my other go-to pitch."

• And finally, I'm going to try to aggregate the weekly award winners in this space on a regular basis, so we'll see how that goes. For the most recent week of competition:

ACC
Pitcher: Karla Wilburn, Virginia
Player: Sarah Tacke, Virginia

Atlantic 10
Pitcher: Brandice Balschmiter, Massachusetts
Player: Carly Normandin, Massachusetts

Big 12
Pitcher: Rhiannon Kliesing, Texas A&M
Player: Holly Ridley, Texas A&M

Big East
Pitcher: Brittany Gardner, Syracuse
Player: Colby Wherry, Louisville

Big Ten
Pitcher: Kim Reeder, Ohio State
Player: Lindsey Hansen, Michigan State

Big West
Pitcher: Anna Cahn, Cal Poly
Player: Kristin Pocock, Long Beach State; Nicole Matson, Pacific (shared)

Mountain West
Pitcher: Kelli Eubanks, Colorado State
Player: Jessica Camello, San Diego State

Pac-10
Pitcher: Donna Kerr, UCLA
Player: Renee Welty, Arizona State

SEC
Pitcher: Stacey Nelson, Florida
Player: Francesca Enea, Florida

WAC
Pitcher: Mallary Darby, Nevada
Player: Tanisha Milca, Hawaii