Baylor gambles its way into WCWS
What we learned in Saturday's super regionals
(Through games completed by 10 p.m. ET)
Athens Super Regional
Game 2: No. 13 Baylor 6, No 4. Georgia 3
What happened: Baylor coach Glenn Moore's long-term plan and short-term gamble both paid off in a win that sends the Lady Bears to the Women's College World Series for the third time in the past eight seasons.
The short-term gamble came in deciding Georgia slugger Alex Hugo wouldn't get to swing the bat. After Hugo gave Georgia a 1-0 lead with a home run in the first inning, the second consecutive plate appearance in which she hit a home run off Whitney Canion, Baylor intentionally put her on base the next three times she batted. (Due to a quirk in the rules, one of the free passes was officially credited as hit-by-pitch, sans contact). Two of the free passes came with the bases empty, the other with first base occupied, bringing to mind Alabama coach Patrick Murphy's controversial decision to take a similar avoid-at-all-costs approach with Arizona State's Kaitlin Cochran in the 2008 World Series.
It didn't work for Alabama back then. It did for Baylor this time. Hugo didn't score in any of the instances in which she was put on base intentionally, as the Bulldogs left 11 runners on base over the final six innings.
The longer plan that had a return to the World Series in mind was to build a lineup that could hit for power, despite a home park in Waco that isn't friendly to the long ball. It paid off on the road in Athens. Baylor hit two balls to the lip of the outfield fence early in Game 2, one that went for a double and one that was caught, but Linsey Hays muscled the ball completely over the fence in the fifth inning for a two-run home run that put Baylor in front for good.
Player of note: Canion allowed more runs in Game 2 than in any start this postseason. It's unlikely anyone is going to give her a hard time about that fact. And not just because the sixth-year pitcher has seniority on most anyone who might try. Canion wasn't perfect, far from it. She allowed eight hits, three unintentional walks and hit a batter. But pitching on no rest against Georgia's lineup and in front of its crowd, perfection could have been the enemy of practicality. She worked her way into and out of trouble over 169 pitches (a light day of work compared to the 305 pitches required on the final day of the Waco regional).
What's next: Baylor awaits the winner of the Gainesville regional, which could give the team another chance to quiet talk about the SEC if Florida advances.
Lafayette Super Regional
Game 2: No. 6 Louisiana-Lafayette 7, No. 11 Arizona 1
What happened: Arizona walked a fine line all season with an overpowering offense that often covered for a pitching staff that struggled to keep runners off base. When that offense looked merely mortal on the road against a very good pitcher, Louisiana-Lafayette's Christina Hamilton, the end was nigh for the Pac-12 team. Playing up to its seed and its offensive reputation, Louisiana-Lafayette piled up nine hits, including two doubles and two home runs, to complement five walks in Saturday's win. In two games against the Wildcats, the Ragin' Cajuns totaled 15 hits and 14 walks. Louisiana-Lafayette didn't sneak into its position -- it is now 8-2 this season against teams that reached the super regionals.
Player of note: Scoring first doesn't guarantee anything -- just ask Georgia. But it didn't hurt Louisiana-Lafayette that Shelbi Redfearn helped set the tone Saturday. Playing as visitors in their home park, the Ragin' Cajuns scored three times in the top of the first inning. Two walks and a double loaded the bases for Redfearn, whose single drove home the first two runs. Dating back to the Sun Belt championship game against South Alabama and including last week's Lafayette regional, Redfearn now has 14 hits and 12 RBIs in her past six games.
What's next: Louisiana-Lafayette returns to the World Series for the first time since 2008, when Ashley Brignac put together one of the better pitching performances in recent Oklahoma City memory to beat Florida in each team's opener. This time the Sun Belt team awaits the winner of the Los Angeles super regional.
Gainesville Super Regional
Game 1: No. 5 Florida 9, No. 12 Washington 0 (5 innings)
What happened: Florida did what Florida does to blow open the opening game in the regional. Washington ranked among the best teams in the Pac-12 at avoiding walks -- pitchers Kaitlin Inglesby and Bryana Walker combined to walk just five batters in the entire Seattle regional a week ago. But with a conservative strike zone and a patient opponent, things got out of hand for the Huskies in the fourth inning. With two runs already across the plate in the inning to push the home team out to a 4-0 lead, five consecutive Florida batters produced three walks, a hit batter and a squeeze play on which everyone was safe. Bat barely touched ball and the game was effectively over.
Washington didn't commit any errors, gave up just two extra-base hits and kept the ball in the park, but still got run-ruled on a day when just 50 of the 106 pitches thrown by its pitchers went for strikes. Plate discipline prevailed.
Player of note: Hannah Rogers has more wins than any active pitcher in college softball, so it stands to reason she would have a good record in this round, too. Through five career super regional appearances, she is now 4-0 with a 0.50 ERA and 22 strikeouts in 28 innings (even her lone no-decision came in relief in a run-rule win for the Gators). Granted, she is very good a lot of places, but she is in her own league in Gainesville in late May.
What's next: Washington must win twice Sunday (ESPN, noon ET), something only four road teams have done to this point in the super regional era.
Los Angeles Super Regional
Game 1: No. 3 UCLA 6, No. 14 Kentucky 4
What happened: Kentucky gave away too many outs for the stage. Two too many outs, specifically.
After UCLA's Ally Carda walked to load the bases in the bottom of the second inning with two outs and the game still scoreless, freshman Delaney Spaulding hit a ball to right field. It was hit with power and faded toward center field, but it was still a catch Kentucky outfielder Emily Gaines would be the first to acknowledge she had to make. The ball popped out of her glove and the first two runs of the game crossed the plate.
Kentucky erased those runs with the kind of moment needed to think about making the program's first trip to the World Series, Griffin Joiner's grand slam in the top of the third. Unfortunately for a team that was vastly more consistent on defense this season than in the recent past, another miscue loomed. After a leadoff double in the bottom of the sixth inning, UCLA's Alyssa Tiumalu drove a ball toward the wall in the left-center field gap. Left fielder Emily Jolly called for the catch but it appeared that either she misjudged the ball or it drifted away from her at the last second and deflected off center fielder Sylver Samuel's glove when she and Jolly collided. Instead of a runner on second with one out, there were runners on second and third and no outs. Kentucky pitcher Kelsey Nunley managed two outs without a run scoring, but after an intentional walk to Carda, Spaulding delivered a grand slam for the final margin of victory.
Player of note: Spaulding was down 0-2 in the count at one point in the at-bat that resulted in her grand slam, not exactly the position most teams might want a freshman in at a crucial moment. But her lack of years notwithstanding, she was a perfect candidate to make the Wildcats pay for intentionally walking Carda a batter earlier. Spaulding has already shown a knack for big moments. She delivered a walk-off single against Oklahoma early in the third weekend of her college career. A couple of weeks later she did that one better with a walk-off three-run home run in extra innings against Michigan.
What's next: UCLA and Kentucky meet for Game 2 on Sunday (ESPNU, 3 p.m. ET).