Such is the case for the Lipscomb Bisons who return to Melching Field at Conrad Park here to defend their Atlantic Sun Tournament Championship, their first ever. The tournament is hosted by Stetson University.
“There are so many intangibles at tournament time,” said Lipscomb coach Jeff Forehand. “Last season every player knew his role. There is a teamsmanship that comes through.”
The Bisons (23-31, 17-13), the No. 2 seed, will face Mercer (23-22, 12-15, the No. 5 seed, Wednesday afternoon at 2 p.m. The game will be available for live viewing on A-Sun TV. The Bisons were 2-1 against Mercer during the regular season, winning 10-8 and 2-0 and losing 4-3 during a March 6-8 series, the A-Sun opener for the Bisons in Macon, Ga.
“The seed doesn’t really mean a lot,” said Forehand. “It doesn’t make any difference who you play in this tournament. All of the teams are equal. Several teams have beaten everybody. Not many teams have swept anybody.
“I feel good about where we are based on how we have played the last couple of weekends. Hopefully, we are at the point where we are getting it all put together.”
Junior left-hander Rex Brothers (5-5, 3.44 ERA), is expected to start for the Bisons against Mercer. He struck out 12 batters in seven innings in a 10-8 win. Brothers leads the A-Sun in strikeouts with 126, and is second in the NCAA. This will be his 14th appearance and 14th start. He has thrown four complete games, including a 3-0 shutout against USC Upstate March 14.
“I hope that Rex pitches well, and we think he will,” said Forehand. “Tournament games bring out the best in a lot of players.”
Mercer will counter with junior right-hander Lath Guyer (2-4, 5.82 ERA). Guyer has 72 strikeouts in 65 innings. This will be his 12th start of the season.
Last season the Bisons won the championship, playing the longest-ever title game in the history of the tournament. The Bisons needed 15 innings to knock off Gardner-Webb by a score of 10-9.
“Last year it was all new to us,” said Forehand. “We stressed that games don’t always go the way you want them to go. Sometimes you have to play from behind and play through adversity. They learned that last year.
“The plan every year is to play for this week. We have put ourselves in a position to be successful. The season didn’t come out like we wanted to during the season, but hopefully we were faced with scenarios that we won’t see for the first time in the tournament.”
The veterans of last year’s championship team told the new players to be prepared for a new level of intensity with the tournament. The Bisons count heavily on second baseman M.L. Williams, right fielder Antonio Butler and designated hitter-first baseman Tennyson Dodd, all members of the A-Sun All-Freshman Team.
“A couple of the older plays talked about how one play won’t decide a game, but the importance of every play will be heightened,” said Forehand. “Everybody needs to be prepared for that. I think the young guys will be ready.”
This has been a rollercoaster of a season for the Bisons. They started out with wins in eight of their first nine A-Sun games. They then went through a low point, losing nine of the next 11. They closed out the season strong winning six of their last nine, winning their last three A-Sun Conference series against Belmont, Campbell and ETSU each by a 2-1 advantage.
“We had a good start, a bad middle and we were able to come back and play pretty good at the end to salvage the season,” said Forehand. “We went through a stretch where we weren’t hitting at all and we weren’t putting up any runs. We put some undue pressure on the pitching staff to feel like they had to be almost perfect for us to win a game. But the hitting has come around the last couple of weeks.
“I don’t know if we are at the point where we are hitting and pitching the best we have all season. But we are definitely doing better than we were in the middle of the year. We have strung some games together where we have put several hits on the board. Hopefully, that will continue.”
Rounding out the tournament field at top-seeded Jacksonville, No. 3-seeded Stetson, No. 4-seeded Belmont and No. 6-seeded ETSU. The tournament continues through Saturday.