Late heroics has Baylor in semis

June, 5, 2011

OKLAHOMA CITY -- What is there to say after one of the longest games in the history of the Women's College World Series?

"Good morning," Baylor shortstop Dani Leal offered as she took her seat at the postgame press conference a good few minutes beyond midnight.

Well, yeah, that about summed up Saturday night.

Baylor and Missouri traded zeroes deep into the night at Hall of Fame Stadium in hopes of earning the chance to take the field on Sunday. As it turned out, that wish came true for both, if only briefly. With two strikes and two outs in the bottom of the 13th, and the clock ticking past midnight, Baylor redshirt freshman Holy Holl lined a home run to left field for a 1-0 win and a date with Arizona State after about a 14-hour break.

Holl might seem an unlikely hero, given the winner was just her second home run in 140 at-bats this season. She might seem doubly so considering Missouri ace Chelsea Thomas had already accumulated two of her 19 strikeouts at Holl's expense by the time the final at-bat rolled around (then again, in her second start of the day after an earlier win against Oklahoma, Thomas struck out every Baylor starter at least once). But intent on at least going down swinging after she was caught looking earlier in the game, Holl lived up to her reputation within the team, even if those fans still watching in the stadium and at home wondered who she was.

"She's a lot of fun to be around," Baylor junior third baseman Megan Turk said. "She's got a lot of energy And even though she'll get frustrated and everything, you know she wants it. She's a very passionate player; she loves the game. She's always aggressive hitting. I think she's really underrated on this team. … She's just so resilient. We keep pushing through and pushing through, and Holly is a big part of this team."

It was the second win in three days by way of an extra-inning, walk-off home run for the Bears, a team that ranks 84th in the nation in home runs per game, wedged between Nevada and Georgia Southern, who it goes without saying, didn't quite make it to Oklahoma City. The first came Thursday from Kelsi Kettler, a part-time player with five extra-base hits who was in the lineup partly because regular starter Claire Hosack wasn't yet ready to return from injury.

The second game-winner was only marginally less surprising. As Turk also noted in making the case for Holl as an underrated hitter, she does lead the team with 11 doubles, the only player in double digits. But she had just the one home run before the game against Missouri and began the season fighting for playing time after redshirting last season. After the season's first weekend, Baylor coach Glenn Moore was cautiously optimistic, with an emphasis on the cautious.

"She's important. Now, I don't think she's a lock for that position," Moore said of Holl on Feb. 13. "I like the [left-handed bat], I like how aggressive she is, I like the way she's playing defense. So we've got a little depth, a few options."

Safe to say he made the right call. It's also safe to say he was a bit more effusive in his praise for her and all his players after this win.

"I'm just so stinking proud of these girls," Moore said, the extra modifier as close to a show of emotion as we're likely to see from him in public.

The true star Saturday night and Sunday morning was Whitney Canion, the ace who stood toe to toe with a brilliant performance from Thomas and held Missouri to just two hits, all the while maximizing her pitch count (strange as that sounds for someone who logged 177 pitches on the night). Whatever happens when Canion goes back to the circle Sunday against Arizona State, she has already announced herself as a top contender for USA Softball Player of the Year next season, and in turn, announced Baylor's national championship intentions behind her.

But when Baylor keep getting impromptu stars like Holl and Kettler, it's safe to wonder if the future might already be here. It sure felt like there was no end in sight to the present Saturday night.

Graham Hays covers college sports for espnW, including softball and soccer. Hays began with ESPN in 1999.



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