No geographical bias exists when it comes to the hitting prowess demonstrated by Purdue softball player Mallory Baker.
This season, Baker, the Boilermakers’ left-handed utility player, collected nine base hits in Florida, five more in California, and, most recently, 10 during Purdue’s seven-game tour of Hawaii.
The Daily Journal’s Player of the Year in 2015 as a senior for Class 4A state champion Center Grove, Baker, a sophomore who hits third in first-year coach Boo Gillette De Oliveira’s lineup, was sporting Purdue’s second-best batting average at .383 heading into this weekend’s series at Illinois.
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“This year has been completely different than what I thought it would when I started playing college softball,” Baker said, making reference to road trips that also have included flights to play tournaments in North Carolina and Arizona.
“I’m just having a lot of fun with it. As a team we’re starting to believe in ourselves and are picking up more wins.”
De Oliveira, most recently an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator at Arkansas, Arizona State and North Carolina, returned in August to West Lafayette, where she had been a Purdue assistant from 2007-10.
Her team’s start proved slow.
The Boilermakers returned from their first five nonconference tournaments with four victories in 24 games. Four of those losses came by a single run, only adding to the frustration.
However, Baker feels Purdue discovered its identity taking part in the Rainbow Wahine Classic in Honolulu from March 15 to 18.
Led by Baker’s 10-of-21 performance at the plate with seven runs driven in, the Boilers were able to establish some much-needed momentum on the Big Island. The team carried an overall record of 15-23 and a 4-2 mark in the Big Ten Conference standings into Friday’s series opener against the Illini.
“Going to Hawaii was crazy because we traveled for a long time, going from Florida to Los Angeles to Honolulu. We were on planes for, like, 12 hours that day,” Baker said. “But I think that was the turning point for us.
“We started believing in ourselves and then started to play better. If you don’t play confidently, you’re not going to win.”
Baker, who shared Indiana Miss Softball honors with Portage pitcher Kiley Jones after hitting .560 with six home runs and 43 RBIs as a senior for Center Grove, should know. It’s this level of belief that allowed her to make an immediate impact at the Division I level.
As a Purdue freshman, she started in 43 games, the majority of those at first base. Baker also started 16 games in right field and two as the designated player.
Seven times she provided two or more hits, including three in a game at Big Ten rival Iowa. Defensively, Baker was successful on 95 percent of her 149 fielding opportunities.
Having not yet reached the halfway point of her college softball career, Baker, who majors in organizational leadership at Purdue, realizes there are plenty more airports, unfamiliar softball venues and base knocks in her future.
And, she hopes, more victories.
WHERE SHE STANDS
Sophomore Mallory Baker ranks high in a variety of offensive categories for the Purdue University softball team this season:
RBIs: 22 (first)
Doubles: 10 (first)
Walks: 16 (first)
Batting average: .383 (second)
Runs: 21 (second)
Total bases: 53 (second)
Stolen bases: 12 (third)