WACO, Texas –The Baylor softball team released its travel-heavy 2014 schedule Wednesday as the Bears prepare to make a run for the Women's College World Series in the spring. In addition, Baylor head coach Glenn Moore finalized the roster as the non-traditional fall schedule is underway.
The Bears will literally travel from one end of the continental U.S. to the other in 2014 playing tournaments in Palm Spring, Calif., Clearwater, Fla., Las Vegas, Nevada and Gulf Port, Miss. Baylor will also host its annual Getterman Classic Feb. 14-16.
"The schedule is designed to put us in position to increase our RPI with several road games against quality opponents," said Moore. "I think we'll be tested early by this schedule, and that will prepare us well for Big 12 competition, and hopefully, get us to where we want to be with a host site for the NCAA Regional."
The Bears are no stranger to postseason play advancing to a least the first round of the NCAA Regional Tournament in seven of the last nine seasons. Moore pointed particularly to USF's Spring Break Invitational where he expects Baylor to see prime competition.
"Everybody there is a top-30 type of program, and I think it's projected to be the strongest tournament we will play in," said Moore. Baylor will face USF, UCONN, Purdue and Penn State March 14-16 in Clearwater, Fla.
The Bears finished 42-17 overall last season and were third in the Big 12 standings with a 10-8 mark. Baylor begins its conference schedule with Texas at home for two games of the three-game series. The final game of the series will be in Austin for the regular-season finale May 11.
Baylor's road series in the Big 12 are with Texas Tech (March 28-30), Oklahoma State (April 17-19), and Iowa State (May 2-4). Other than the two games with the Longhorns, the Bears will play host to two full conference series with Oklahoma (April 11-13), last year's Big 12 and national champions, and Kansas (April 25-27).
Moore also finalized his 21-person roster Wednesday and said it was the first time he has carried 21 players since his first season with Baylor in 2001.
Six newcomers join a cast of 15 veterans as the Bears gear up for their first Women's College Worlds Series run since 2011.
"We're glad to have [pitcher] Whitney Canion back at full speed and along with Heather Stearns, I think we'll have a great 1-2 punch at the top of our rotation with depth behind them," Moore said.
Canion, a redshirt senior, became Baylor's all-time wins leader with 87 through last season while Stearns won a dozen games as a freshman last year with a 2.71 ERA.
Moore said he expects to have a good defense behind the pitching staff with experience in the infield, and the only starter to replace is Kathy Shelton in the outfield.
"[Shelton] put up great numbers and is a big one to lose, but we've got the people to compete for her spot and fill the void adequately," Moore said. "We just need the others to grow up as players and fill the void."
Offensively, the Bears ranked fifth in the Big 12 in batting average at a .295 mark with Kaitlyn Thumann returning as the Bears' leading hitter. Thumann, the junior outfielder, hit .377 with 32 RBI's in her sophomore campaign last season.
Baylor opens the season in Las Vegas, Nevada at the Sportco Kick-Off Classic hosted by UNLV. The Bears will not play the hosts, but will open with games against Washington and San Diego Feb. 7.
Bears fans can catch their first glimpse of the 2014 team Saturday at a "Meet the Team" event at Getterman Field beginning at 9:45 a.m. Baylor will play two five-inning intrasquad scrimmages with fans getting the opportunity to be introduced to the team between games.