How good has Baylee Klingler been offensively for the Washington softball team this season?
She is in the midst of what could be the best offensive season in program history. That good.
Expectations were certainly high for the senior infielder after she was named a second-team All-American. This season she has been All-World.
“When you have a trajectory in the game that can go really far — it’s not that we expect it, but she is definitely capable of having the success she is having,” said UW softball coach Heather Tarr, whose No. 10 Huskies (29-11, 9-6 Pac-12) opened a three-game home series against Stanford on Friday night.
Klingler has power: With 20 home runs this season entering this weekend, she has a decent chance to break the school season record of 25 set by Kristen Rivera in 2003.
She hits for average: Her .450 batting average is nearly 100 percentage points higher than the team’s second-leading hitter (Sami Reynolds at .358) and is second in school history behind Angie Marzetta (now Mentink), who hit .472 in 1993.
She puts the ball in play: For someone with so much power, she is remarkably hard to strike out, fanning just six times in 129 at-bats, making her by far the hardest Husky to strike out.
Klingler leads the Pac-12 in batting average, homers and runs batted in (58) and is doing all of it while taking over at shortstop for the graduated Sis Bates, one of the best shortstops in college history.
Klingler makes the reason for her success sound simple.
“I think just being a veteran now and stepping into that leadership role … and just having the mindset of leading this group and just doing my best to work hard and set a good example,” she said. “And everything is just working out this way.”
But she didn’t envision this many homers and she doesn’t go to the plate trying to hit one.
“It’s just how she swings, and how her body moves is pretty amazing,” Tarr said, explaining the power.
Said Klingler: “It just happens. I swing hard at pitches I want to hit. It just works out that way.”
Things have been working out for Klingler for three seasons at UW after transferring from Texas A&M after her freshman season. She had committed to the Aggies before starting ninth grade at Dickinson High School in Houston.
Klingler made the All-Southeastern Conference team as a freshman, but decided it was time for something new.
Klingler and Bates had been teammates on the USA Junior Women’s National Team that won the 2017 World Championship. While playing again with Bates was a bonus, Klingler said it was Tarr and “the family atmosphere” that sealed her choice.
Tarr had followed Klingler and knew she was a talented athlete with athletic genes.
Father Jimmy was a star quarterback at the University of Houston, mother Tracey performed on the Houston Oilers’ dance team and uncle David was a record-setting quarterback at the University of Houston before playing in the NFL.
Baylee’s sister, Courtney, played volleyball at Houston, and brother Cory played football at Rice.
“I always tell my mom that any rhythm or any sort of dance moves that I inherited, was for sure from her,” Klingler said. “I don’t know if my dad can whip out the footwork, so I always give my mom credit for that. But it has really helped me out.”
Klingler made an immediate impact at Washington and was hitting .481 in 77 at-bats as a sophomore in 2020 when the season was cut short because of COVID. She was on pace to set the school record for batting average but did not get the required 100 at-bats.
She hit a team-leading .416 last season with a team-high 16 homers (up from five as a sophomore), but on a team with long-established stars like Bates, catcher Morganne Flores and pitcher Gabbie Plain, her performance was somewhat overshadowed.
With Bates and Flores graduating, the spotlight has been on Klingler, and she has delivered, raising her career batting average to .441, well above Marzetta’s .429.
“I had no clue (about that),” said Klingler, who plans to return to UW for a fifth season next year.
But not much gets past Klingler, at the plate and in the field. Tarr said Klingler has done a great job of taking over at shortstop.
“She can play anywhere on the field, honestly,” Tarr said. “The kid can probably pitch. But for us, on our team, putting her at shortstop was the best thing for this group, this year.”
Klingler said she is happy to play wherever she is needed.
“In terms of replacing Sis, I don’t think anyone could,” Klingler said. “Just moving my body around and being free, shortstop is fun in that sense.”
With the help of Klingler, who has six homers in her past nine games, the Huskies are playing better than they have all season, winning their past seven games after a slow start in Pac-12 play left them at 3-6 in the conference.
“I think the sky is the limit for this group,” Klingler said. “We are just scratching the surface of what we can do with so many rookies who are studs. The more we learn and grow together, the better we get. I think we are on an incline and we have a chance to do something really special this year.”
As for Klingler, Tarr said she is primed to do special things, too.
“She understands where she fits, who she is as a softball player, as a student, and taking care of business in life,” Tarr said. “And when you can take care of all of your buckets and you are a pretty good softball player and you are really driven, you can do some pretty amazing things in the game.”