A disastrous first inning and a pitching performance by a wily veteran spelled doom for No. 7 Georgia Friday in its NCAA super regional opener against Baylor.
The No. 17 Bears — the NCAA tournament’s 13th seed — jumped on the fourth-seeded Bulldogs for four runs in the first inning and never looked back, taking a six-inning 9-1 victory in what was Georgia’s most lopsided loss since early March.
In a scenario similar to last weekend’s Athens Regional, the Bulldogs (49-13) will have to run the table today with two victories over Baylor (46-14) to reach their third Women’s College World Series. First pitch is at noon today with an “if necessary” game set for 3 p.m.
Georgia did not help itself with a disastrous first inning when the Bears roughed up pitcher Chelsea Wilkinson for four runs on just one hit, but there’s not much question that the Bulldogs were going to have their problems against Baylor pitcher Whitney Canion, who suffered a forearm injury in 2012 and a torn ACL in 2012 to earn two medical redshirts and a sixth year in the circle.
The well-seasoned Canion (30-10) needed but 77 pitches to shut down Georgia, allowing but two hits and striking out six.
“(Experience) helps so much, especially with the heat out there (Friday),” Canion, who is playing in the third Super Regional of her career, said. “Just coming in here to their home park and starting out in the first inning like we did was a huge help, too. The experience I had here helped (Friday), it helped me in the Regional and it will help me (today), too.”
“(Canion is) an outstanding pitcher and you have to give her credit for that,” Georgia coach Lu Harris-Champer said. “She has been around for a while and Chelsea was saying yesterday that she was a freshman in high school when (Canion) was a freshman in college. There is some maturity there and she’s absolutely a mature, outstanding pitcher and we look forward to the opportunity to compete some more (today).”
Wilkinson, who has played a key role in the Bulldogs’ 11 victories in their last 13 games, started the day with by walking Kaitlyn Thurmann, who moved to second base on Ari Hawkins’ sacrifice. Holly Holl then hit a grounder to first base, which Georgia’s Geri Ann Glasco booted, allowing Thurmann to race around from second to score.
Wilkinson then hit Clare Hosack, putting two runs on for Sarah Smith, who drilled a three-run home run near the left-field foul pole to give the Bears their early 4-0 edge.
“I knew it was out, but I thought it was foul,” Smith, who had three hits and three RBIs on the day, said. “In the first inning, we set the tone for the whole game. Chelsea is a great pitcher, but I was seeing the ball well — it was like a beach ball.”
Baylor struck again in the third inning as Hawkins led off with a single and scored on Holl’s double. Another error enabled Holl to reach third and she scored moments later on a wild pitch by Wilkinson.
The Bears completed their scoring in the sixth when Smith led off with a single and Jordan Strickland followed up with a two-run home run that bounced off her image on the scoreboard. Lindsey Cargill, who reached first on a fielder’s choice, later scored on a single by Hawkins.
Second baseman Alex Hugo accounted for both of Georgia’s hits, collecting a one-out triple in the first inning and driving a home run to left field in the bottom of the fifth.
“We were just trying get something going,” Hugo, who hit her 24th home run of the season, tying her with Alisa Goler (2009) at the top of the Bulldogs’ list, said. “We barreled all day and we hit really well. … We have good hitters all through our lineup. If everyone sticks to the game plan, I think good things will come.”
Wilkinson (33-9) pitched five-plus innings, giving up eight runs (four of them earned) and seven hits to go with three strikeouts. She was spelled by Bekah Farris, who surrendered two hits and one run to the five batters she faced.
After falling to NC State last Saturday in the third game of the Athens Regional, Georgia bounced back the next day with seven home runs and two run-rule victories to advance to the Super Regional.
When asked if the Bulldogs had the Bears right where they wanted them, Harris-Champer quipped, “We’re ready. We know what it takes to go 14 innings strong and that’s where we’re at. We’ve got our backs against the wall and we generally come out strong when our back is against the wall.”