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Wagener, UHV set to defend title at conference tournament

By BY THOMAS R. MARTINEZ - tmartinez@vicad.com
May 5, 2010 at 12:05 a.m.

Baylea Wagener winds up throwing during Monday's practice in preparation for the Association of Independent Institutions Conference softball tournament in Victoria.

Baylea Wagener winds up throwing during Monday's practice in preparation for the Association of Independent Institutions Conference softball tournament in Victoria.

When things get stressful for Baylea Wagener, she talks to a rebel.

Her horse, Rebel.

"It really helps to have him here in Victoria because there's so much focus on softball and school," said Wagener, a sophomore pitcher for the University of Houston-Victoria softball team. "I mean, we really don't have a lot of other stuff to go do because we don't have a lot of time. But 30 minutes a day, I can go and feed him and say hi, and just get away from it."

If there was ever a time for Wagener and her teammates to feel a little stress, it's this week as they prepare to defend their title in the Association of Independent Institutions Conference softball tournament. Games start Thursday at Burdge Field in Victoria.

Wagener takes the mound for the Jaguars in their opening game vs. LSU-Alexandria. At stake is a possible berth in the national championship tournament. The top two teams from the tournament get automatic berths. The others will be left waiting for an invitation that may or may not happen.

Wagener thinks her team is ready.

"We've been preparing for it all year," she said. "You don't let it get in your head. It's another softball game. We've been doing this for how many years now?"

UHV coach Keri Lambeth agrees.

"They're ready to go. I know they'll do what they need to do to get the job done," she said.

That hasn't always been the case for UHV or Wagener this year.

Wagener's stats are solid as evidenced by a 12-2 record and 2.43 earned run average. She has at times been inconsistent and lacked focus.

But she's worked hard to overcome those, Lambeth said.

"She's a young pitcher with a lot of talent. But she's definitely grown a lot this year," Lambeth said.

Assistant coach Lyndsey Ferguson has worked with Wagener during the season on her command and mechanics, working on the spin she puts on the ball, Lambeth said.

If there's one person on the team who knows about Wagener's growth, it's veteran catcher Brittany Faas, the team's only three-year player who's caught every game this season.

"Just in a year's span, Baylea has grown so much and is becoming a stronger pitcher and leader on the field every day," Faas said.

Wagener has teamed with Tasha Rotramel and Emily Bergstrom to give the Jaguars a well-rounded pitching staff, Faas added.

"She works hard at practice and if something isn't working or we notice something we need to work on, she puts in the effort to change it and will keep pushing and practicing until we can figure it out," Faas said.

That kind of effort will pay off in the coming years, too, Faas said, when Wagener will step into a leadership role on the team.

"Baylea is young, so she will be with this team for two more years. She has already accomplished so much this year and learned so much that she has a lot of potential for the next two years," Faas said.

Wagener came to UHV via Angleton High School with a little Arkansas and Galveston mixed in.

The University of Central Arkansas recruited Wagener to pitch for the Division I school. A coaching change and a glut of pitchers there left her playing the outfield as a freshman. A pitcher since the age of 8, Wagner felt out of sorts.

So she transferred to Galveston Junior College - "they just called on the right day," she says - and eventually made her way to UHV after a semester on the beach.

Wagener will team with lefty sophomore Emily Bergstrom and some talented incoming recruits to man the mound, giving UHV some continuity moving forward.

"Her speed and movement will definitely keep benefiting the Jaguars as she grows and matures," Faas said.

To win the conference tournament again, the whole team will have to show it's matured. UHV is ranked No. 21, and two other top-ranked teams will try to take the Jaguars' title away. Simon-Fraser (No. 14) and Cal State San Marcos (No. 5) both boast strong teams. UHV hasn't played Cal State yet, but the Jaguars did lose a pair of one-run games to Simon Fraser at the UHV Invite in March.

Not only will the Jaguars need strong performances on the mound from Wagener, Bergstrom and Rotramel, they'll need consistent production from their offense to repeat as conference champions.

Inconsistency on offense has plagued the team at times this year, Wagener said.

"We have games where we hit great, then we have games where we just can't seem to get it away from people, where we just hit it straight to players," Wagener said. "I think if we can get consistent in the box, then we'll be set for the tournament for sure."

If things go the way the Jaguars want, they'll be conference champs. Then, the stress level of players such as Wagener will be lower.

Wagener, an accomplished artist and a psychology major, will be fine either way. Psychology has taught her coping skills.

"It helps me to separate myself emotionally from situations and sit back and look at the big picture," she said.

And what psychology doesn't help, Rebel, the trusty horse she's owned for about 10 years, will.

"He's a thoroughbred, and he's very pretty," she said. "I'll take him and just trail ride and that kind of thing. I'll trailer him to the beach, and find places to go. It's really an adventure, something to do to get away from stress."


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