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Arizona softball notebook: Baylor’s pitching staff is the best the Wildcats have faced this season

The Bears feature two pitchers with ERAs hovering around 1.50, one of whom threw two no-hitters last weekend

Gia Rodoni tossed consecutive no-hitters in the Waco Regional
Photo via @BaylorSoftball on Twitter

For most teams, there’s a clear distinction between their No. 1 pitcher and their No. 2 pitcher.

But the Baylor Bears aren’t like most teams.

Senior right-hander Kelsee Selman is 23-8 with a 1.46 ERA in 201 innings of work, while sophomore right-hander Gia Rodoni is 17-2 with a 1.57 ERA in 138 innings.

Also: Rodoni threw consecutive no-hitters in the Waco Regional last weekend.

“I don’t think I’ve ever had two pitchers performing as closely as these two are,” Baylor head coach Glenn Moore said Thursday.

The duo is hoping to propel Baylor to its first Women’s College World Series appearance since 2014, but will have to get through the Arizona Wildcats and their high-powered offense first.

The second-seeded Wildcats (51-7) host the 15th-seeded Bears (46-12) this weekend in a best-of-three Super Regional. Arizona leads the nation in homers (93) and is second in runs per game (7.40).

“They look like the full package to me,” Moore said. “They hit a lot of home runs and they’re fast. They don’t have a ton of stolen bases but they hit a lot of doubles so they don’t have to steal second.”

This will be Baylor’s second time playing at Hillenbrand Stadium this season. The Bears ventured to Tucson on Feb. 11 when they lost 4-0 to the Wildcats.

Arizona scored four runs (three earned) against Selman in 5 23 innings. However, both teams downplayed the significance of that early-season matchup.

“I’m a lot different than when I started,” Selman said.

Arizona head coach Mike Candrea believes Selman and Rodoni are the best 1-2 punch the Wildcats have faced this season.

“I’ll say yes,” he said. “And we’ve faced pretty good pitching in the Pac-12 throughout the year.”

The most impressive thing about Baylor’s pitching duo?

“They’ve been successful,” Candrea answered. “At this time of the year, the bottom line is that. They’ve won more games than they’ve lost and they’re here. Anytime you get to this round, you’ve gotta have good pitching. You don’t get here without good pitching, so obviously we understand that, we respect that and we’re trying to put our plans together to challenge them."

Selman and Rodoni believe they are well-prepared for that challenge.

“We’ve seen a lot of good hitters and a lot of good small ball players the whole entire season,” Selman said. “I’m having to go up against some of the best in practice so I feel really prepared and I know Gia is prepared so we’re ready to go after it and attack with our best.”

The Bears surrendered just two runs and four hits in the Waco Regional.


Wildcats can match it

Arizona is one of the few teams that can match Baylor’s firepower in the circle.

Danielle O’Toole and Taylor McQuillin each enter Super Regionals with ERAs below 2.00, and were the only pitching staff to not allow a run in Regionals.

“I think that the two of us are pretty good together.” O’Toole said.

O’Toole (29-4, 1.02 ERA) has been consistently dominant this season, but McQuillin (16-3, 1.72 ERA) has had her fair share of ups and downs, especially toward the end of Pac-12 play.

However, McQuillin has tossed nine scoreless innings in the postseason, including a six-hit shutout of South Carolina.

O’Toole thinks McQuillin turned a corner after her final start of the regular season, in which she allowed four runs (three earned) in six innings in a loss at UCLA.

“We kinda changed her gameplan around,” O’Toole said. “That game was super critical and I continue to say it and I’m so happy and I tell her that ‘I’m so proud of you’ for that game because that was such a turnaround for her. Ever since that point, she has been growing and growing and growing.

“And you saw this past weekend that it turned into something good.”

O’Toole also credited McQuillin for some of her success. The two often consult — and sometimes even argue — about how to pitch to certain teams and players.

“It’s not a bad thing,” O’Toole said. “It’s because we both have very strong opinions about things. I think that listening to someone else’s opinion that is very different from your own is something that I’ve learned to accept and think about a different way. And I think that’s probably the most important aspect of our relationship.”

O’Toole tossed a five-hit shutout and tallied seven strikeouts in Arizona’s 4-0 win over Baylor in February.


Home sweet home

At this time last season, the Wildcats were in Auburn, Alabama as the visiting team in a Super Regional.

It’s safe to say O’Toole is happy Arizona is playing at home this time around.

“It’s a huge advantage,” she said. “I remember being at Auburn and their stadium is a little bit different. You just see a sea of orange and it was really (shocking) being out there and having to see all of them stand up and all of them get frustrated at the calls I was getting or wasn’t getting. When I hit the catcher, all of them stood up and were upset about it. Having that switched for us now, I don’t think our fans are going to hate anybody more this weekend (than Baylor). They might hate ASU but it’s a different kind of feeling.”


Need for speed

Candrea thinks this “should be a very quick series.” As in, both teams bring plenty of speed to the table.

The Bears lead the Big 12 in stolen bases per game (1.91) and have swiped 107 bases on 139 attempts this season.

“They’re aggressive,” Candrea said.

And far more aggressive than a typical Pac-12 team. Only one team in the conference (Oregon) has more than 64 stolen base attempts.

The way to nullify the Bears’ speed is simple, but not necessarily easy.

“You keep the speed off the bases No. 1,” Candrea said. “That’s the only way you can eliminate it.”

Baylor is 25th in the country in on-base percentage (.390) and ninth in batting average (.328).

Arizona doesn’t steal bases like Baylor — the Wildcats have only stolen 19 bases this season — but it has ample speed of its own, especially with Eva Watson taking over in center fielder for the injured power-hitting Alyssa Palomino.

Watson is one of three slappers at the end of the Wildcats’ batting order, and team’s 7-8-9 hitters were 15 for 24 at the plate and scored eight of the teams’ 25 runs in Regionals last weekend.

Watson was awarded the gold jersey in practice this week after she hit 4 for 6 with two stolen bases and four runs scored in the Tucson Regional.

“I think this team has a good balance of power and speed and we need both elements working,” Candrea said. “The speed last weekend is what really ignited this team, and who knows, this weekend it might be the power.”


Schedule

  • Game 1 | Friday, May 26 | 6 p.m. PST | ESPN2
  • Game 2 | Saturday, May 27 | 6 p.m. PST | ESPN
  • Game 3 (if necessary) | Sunday, May 28 | 4 p.m. PST | ESPNU

You can follow Ryan Kelapire on Twitter at @RKelapire