Tuesday, April 16, 2013
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Tanner Sanders didn’t really enjoy the luxury of having a freshman season to become comfortable with playing softball on the NCAA Division I level.
She was quickly thrown into the circle and she has responded showing more maturity with each passing week. She is coming off two wins over the weekend against then No. 24-ranked USC Upstate. She held the Spartans, who entered last week leading the nation in team batting average, to three hits in 11.2 innings.
“Tanner is throwing really well right now,” LU coach Kristin Ryman said. “She is not over thinking it. She is keeping it simple.
“She is doing a much better job of hitting her spots. The mixing of her pitches is called from the dugout, but she is hitting her spots with more of her pitches. That makes her a more dynamic pitcher.”
In 136 innings the right-handed Sanders has struck out 101 batters. She ranks second in the A-Sun in batters struck out looking with 44. She also has four shutouts.
“If she is struggling to hit her spots with two of her pitches that really limits what we can throw and how we mix her pitches,” Ryman said. “She is just doing her job one pitch to the next. She is not getting too far ahead of herself. “
Freshmen adjust to the college game on different time schedules. Ryman has watched Sanders take her game up a notch after dealing with some growing pains earlier in the season.
“We have seen Tanner really take off,” Ryman said. “Early in the year we saw some good things out of her. Then she went through a little bit of a rough patch where was being hit harder more consistently than any of us would have liked.
“She was putting herself in pressure situations. She was creating jams and then had to find ways to work out of them.”
Over the past couple of weeks Ryman has seen her Sanders turn the corner.
“She is doing a better job of working out of those jams and she isn’t creating as many jams for herself,” Ryman said. “Those two things alone show a lot of maturity and a lot of growth.”
She is 14-7 overall with a 2.93 earned run average heading into Wednesday night’s doubleheader with Sunbelt foe Western Kentucky at Draper Diamond. The Lady Bisons are 24-19 overall. Western Kentucky, a 4-0 winner over Belmont Tuesday night, is 26-13. The first game begins at 5 p.m.
“They have a very athletic team,” Ryman said. “They hit well. They have a good mix of lefties and righties. They pitch well and they defend well.
“We talk about what a quality team USC Upstate is. Western Kentucky is right up there with them. They have one of the top teams in the Sunbelt right now. Louisiana-Lafayette usually dominates that conference and they took two out of three from them.”
The Lady Bisons lost 5-1 to Western Kentucky on Feb. 16. The Hilltoppers lead the all-time series 12-7, but they are 5-1 in the last six games with LU.
“I know at that point in the year we were a different team,” Ryman said. “We had people in the mix who are no longer in the mix from a health standpoint.
“We had people in different positions. Our focus was different. We have people playing a lot now who weren’t at that time. I think it is going to be a very different match-up.”
Preslie Cruce leads Western Kentucky in hitting with a .385 average. Olivia Watkins is batting .333. Amanda Thomas leads with 10 home runs. Cruce is close behind with nine. Thomas is also the leader in runs batted in with 40.
Emily Rousseau leads the pitching staff with a 15-5 record and a 1.92 ERA. She has struck out 155 batters in 138.2 innings. Teams are batting a combined .192 against her.
The Lady Bisons continue to be led in hitting by Brittany Elmore with a .336 average. She also leads the conference in stolen bases with a school record 26. Elmore is 24th in the nation in stolen bases with .60 per game. The Lady Bisons are 22nd nationally as a team with 1.84 stolen bases per game.
Paige Neely is batting .303. She leads the team in RBI with 25. Neely and Kristen Sturdivant, the team leader with nine home runs, each have seven games with multiple runs batted in.
Gracey Aguirre is batting .300. She leads the team in doubles with 12. She is ranked 19th in the nation in doubles per game with .35.
The Lady Bisons hit the road this weekend for a pivotal Atlantic Sun series with Mercer in Macon, Ga. Saturday’s doubleheader begins at noon. Game three of the series will start Sunday at noon.
“We have beaten some quality teams,” Ryman said. “Every win right now helps. The confidence is rolling with this group right now.”