By Austin Staton
Big 12 Campus Correspondent
After a Women's College World Series berth, the 2008 version of the Baylor softball team had high expectations entering the season with a No. 7 ranking in front of their name. Unfortunately, the season did not go as planned.
Regardless, a new year a new start, and the Bears looked ahead to the 2009 season as a chance to rebound. How?...Enter freshman pitching sensation Whitney Canion.
A native of Aledo, Texas, Canion was simply dominant in high school. Her senior season speaks volumes to her talents and athletic ability. Finishing with a 31-0 record, the southpaw recorded a 0.07 ERA with 382 strikeouts and three perfect games.
After leading Aledo High to their first state championship and mythical national championship, the 2008 Texas Gatorade Player of the Year would take her golden left arm to Baylor.
Most freshmen sit back during their first year and become role players as they gain valuable experience from upperclassmen. Canion is the exception.
Beginning with a three game series against Florida, the freshman was asked to lead by example as she pitched the BU squad to a 1-0 upset of the Gators.
“It was awesome. After dropping the first two games of the series we just had to come back and forget those games and play our game on Sunday,” said Canion. “We finally came through and got a run across the board.
“To get that win and knock off the number one team in the nation was just a really good feeling. That win will go a long way the rest of the year because we know that we can fight through and win a game,” said Canion.
Leaving Gainesville, Fla., with a 1-1 record, Canion earned the Big 12 Conference co-Pitcher of the Week. During her first weekend in the circle, the lefty garnered a 0.54 ERA with 19 strikeouts in 13 innings of work to earn the award. The win over Florida was also the first win over a number one team in program history.
The fun didn’t stop there. For three consecutive weeks into the season, Canion continued to knotch Big 12 Pitcher of the Week accolades. The last pitcher to achieve such an honor was former Texas standout Cat Osterman who attained that feat in 2006. However, unlike Osterman, the BU hurler is the first freshmanto accomplish the streak in a season.
“I didn’t even know that there was a Pitcher of the Week award until Coach (Glenn) Moore came and told me at practice,” said Canion. “My reaction the first week was ‘oh that’s cool’ but then when it happened again I was wowed. We are playing good teams and we are winning games. To win three times in a row is awesome, but it has been a whole team effort for me to get it.”
It was no secret coming into the season that the freshman had a gifted ability. With Baylor returning three arms to the diamond plus Canion’s talents, pitching looked to be strength for the Bears as the season approached. However, the impact that Canion would have on this club could not have been predicted.
“I expected her to be very good but I didn’t want to build her up any more than that so we didn’t put too much pressure on her,” Coach Glenn Moore contended. “Her expectations were extremely high but she has done things that no one else has done at this point. For me to say that I would have thought she would have done this much so soon would have been unrealistic.”
When looking at the schedule prior to the start of the season, it resembles a “who’s who” list of dominant collegiate programs. Baylor’s schedule features 21 games against 11 teams that made the NCAA Tournament a year ago, including three teams (Florida, Alabama and Texas A&M) that advanced to the Women’s College World Series. With a tough schedule facing the Bears, it is highly important they have a dominant arm in the circle when facing quality adversaries.
“She is in the most important position in our sport. Even more so than baseball, pitching is more valuable in softball,” Moore said. “With good pitching and enough hitting you can win a lot of ball games. She just plays with a seasoned experience that just amazes a lot of people. She is just an outstanding kid.”
Adjusting to the talent at the collegiate level hasn’t been a cakewalk, but Canion has been able to make the transition smoothly with the help of her teammates.
“It is huge mentally,” Canion said. “In high school you would come into a game and know that you were going to run-rule an opponent. In college you have to be prepared both mentally and physically for every game. The talent level is a huge step up and you must be on your game everyday.”
BU is currently in the middle of a nine-day, 10-game road trip throughout the Southeast that feature games against softball powerhouses such as Alabama, Georgia and Washington.
The young gun has been nothing but phenomenal this season for Baylor, who is off to an 18-8 start with Canion leading the way with 10 wins. In 103.1 innings of work, the freshman features a 1.96 ERA, 149 strikeouts, five shutouts and a no-hitter.
“The sky is the limit for what she can do,” said Moore. “We have had some great pitchers in this league like Cat Osterman and Jennifer Stewart, but I can tell you that in my nine years of coaching I haven’t seen anyone perform any better this early in their career, with maybe the exception of Osterman.”