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Softball to feature versatility in fall ball

Wednesday, September 25, 2013
by Mark McGee

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – “V” stands for versatility this fall for the Lipscomb Lady Bisons softball team.

Coach Kristin Ryman is looking at multiple players in multiple positions this fall. Ryman will get a first chance to analyze how all the variations work this Saturday when Tennessee State visits Draper Diamond for a doubleheader starting at 1 p.m.

Catching change

The Lady Bisons have to fill the vacancy left by the transfer of catcher Mickey Bell. Seniors Haley Elliott and Rena’ Cothron are in the mix for the starting position.

Since joining the Lady Bisons Cothron has primarily played third base.  Elliott was a designated player last season while recovering from a shoulder injury that hampered her throwing ability.

“Haley is still trying to recover and is taking some good steps,” Ryman said. “Last season she was prevented from doing a lot defensively.”

Cothron is making a major change in her role with the team. She has not worked behind the plate since high school. She has spent some time catching in the bullpen for the Lady Bisons.

“As the dynamics on our team have changed, Rena’s role has changed,” Ryman said. “I absolutely love the mentality and the team attitude that Rena’ brings to the team.

“Rena’ is doing some really good things behind the plate.  She has a shot to be our starter back there.  I think that speaks volumes for her work ethic and where she is mentally.”

Sturdivant leads pack at first

Senior Kristen Sturdivant returns at first base. But the position is crowded this fall.

“Kristen is in a position right now where she is doing some really good things,” Ryman said. “Defensively, there are some things we would like to see her improve on like her quickness and going after balls in the three-four hole. Those are things we feel like she is improving on day-by-day.

“She has got great footwork around the bag. She knows how to play first. She has a good first baseman’s mentality. And she obviously has the experience. She has the upper hand right now.”

Sturdivant is known for her power-hitting skills, but Ryman wants to see more consistency at the plate.

“Kristen is looking good swinging the bat,” Ryman said. “She is doing good things at the plate. She is hitting some balls out of the park every single day. It is not always about home runs, but the swings she is taking are quality ones.

“She has always had power. What we want to see from her is consistency and cutting out strikeouts. She is improving.”

Junior Gracey Aguirre, who played right field last season, is also spending some time at first. However, she is getting the bulk of her work in right.

“Gracey is a kid that you need on the field somewhere because you have to keep her bat in the lineup,” Ryman said. “She is versatile. She is going to do whatever you need her to do. I love that mentality about her.

“We have thrown something different at her every year. She takes it in stride. She provides a little quickness at first. She doesn’t have a lot of experience playing the position. We will be working on that this fall.”

A pair of freshmen, Katy Richardson and Taylor Neuhart, are also working at first. Neuhart is primarily a pitcher who can also play first.

“Taylor is hard-nosed on the field,” Ryman said. “She brings a gamer type of mentality.

“She spent most of her time in individual practice working as a pitcher this fall. Now that we are into team work we are mixing her in at first. A lot of it will come down to whether she can get into our top nine hitting-wise.”

Richardson is classified as a true utility player. She is working at first and will also get time in the outfield.

“Katy has played every position on the field except pitcher growing up,” Ryman said. “We want her to get as comfortable at first as she can. She could do some catching for us.

“She has lot of experience playing in a lot of different positions. That is going to be very valuable to us.”

Who’s on second?

Kelsey Cartwright returns for her senior season after redshirting in 2013 due to an injury.

“Defensively, she is looking comfortable,” Ryman said. “Kelsey is known as a great hitter, but we challenged her this summer to spend as much time on her defense as does on her hitting.

“She is such an offensive-minded person. There are little things like knowing when to go get the ball and when to let it come to you and refining your movements and your throws. She has worked hard to address those things.”

Kelsey also brings strong leadership to the team as a fifth-year senior. She has been challenged by the coaching staff to be aware of the role she is in.

“She has more experience than anyone here,” Ryman said. “There are a lot of people on this team that look to her.”

Jordan Abell, a junior, is also working at second. Ryman sees improvement every day in Abell’s play.

“Jordan is a vocal leader,” Ryman said. “She is a spark plug.”

Ryman knows that sophomore Brittany Elmore can play second, as she did for much of the season last year. But Ryman thinks Elmore may contribute more in center field.

“We are trying to get Brittany as many reps as possible in center field,” Ryman said. “We have talked about the mentality of a center field having to want the position.

“She loves second base. But she knows that where we need her the most right now is in center field.”

Not short at shortstop

Senior Bridgette Begle is the heir apparent at shortstop.  This will be her third year as the starting shortstop and her fourth year as a starter overall.

“Bridgette is such a good athlete,” Ryman said. “She covers so much ground. She does a really nice job defensively.

“I played the position. I am pretty picky about what I look for in shortstops. There is a certain athleticism that you need to have to play the position well. Bridgette has it. She finds ways to keep getting better, mentally; she is getting stronger and stronger each year. She is starting to be more confident as a leader this year.”

Paige Neely, a junior who played center field and third base last season, is getting some work at shortstop.

“Paige could step in and play there if we needed her at shortstop,” Ryman said. “She may be the future shortstop of the team.

“She is easily one of the most athletic kids we have, if not the most athletic overall. She and Bridgette both have some really great positives there. I wish we could put two shortstops out there.”

Back at third?

Neely established herself as the starter at third base last season. Neely’s versatility is what Ryman admires the most.

“Paige has the mentality of doing whatever she can to help the team,” Ryman said. “She will play wherever she will help the most. She makes our team better because she has that mentality.”

Madison Wray, a sophomore, is also a versatile player who is working at third base and in the outfield. She might also see some time at first base.

“She played a lot of different positions in high school,” Ryman said. “We can continue to explore different defensive options with her. She is getting a lot of good work in at third.

“She works and works and works every day. She is going to continue to challenge in various places this season.”

Also working at third is freshman Mikayla “Mimi” Cartwright. She has also played virtually every position on the field.

“I like her presence athletically and I like her arm at third base,” Ryman said. “I also really like her in right field because of her arm. We have had a string of strong-armed players in right field with Gracie and Caroline Mason.

“I think she could be a key factor out there. We are throwing a lot of different things at her. It is exciting to see her learn and grow.”

Options in the outfield

Junior Brianne Welch is known for her defensive skills and will be given an opportunity to claim left field as her own.

“Brianne has defensively been one of our better outfielders since she has been here,” Ryman said. “I call her fearless out there. She is somebody that goes after everything. I love that aspect of how she plays the game.

“She has a fighter’s mentality. She goes home every summer and is always busting it to get in better physical shape each year. You can’t say enough about her work ethic.”

A key for Welch is to become more of a factor offensively. Ryman thinks Welch is taking positive steps in that direction.

“We are still addressing a few things,” Ryman said. “She is working to take her game to the next level. If we can address a few things with her from a hitting standpoint she is going to be in the mix.”

Also working in left is sophomore Dee Baddley, a player known for her work ethic and her desire to learn.

“She just soaks everything up,” Ryman said. “She is always asking questions. She wants to get better.

“She plays with heart. She defines our team and how we want to play all the time.”

Freshman Becca Dean is a left-handed hitter like Baddley. Dean has shown the ability to focus on doing the little things that will improve her at the plate and in the field.

“Becca is a really speedy kid,” Ryman said. “She is one of the fastest we have right now. She is someone that I think could develop into a key player for us. Once it all clicks I can see her taking off.”

Kasey Gibson, another freshman, is also working some in left field.

“Kasey has such a good attitude like our other freshmen,” Ryman said. “She is really trying to pay close attention to her mechanics.

“It is a new system and it takes some time for the freshmen to make adjustments.  Kasey can bring speed to the lineup. She could be a good fit in the No. 9 hole with Brittany at the top of the line-up. She is also a lefty at the plate and she is a stolen base threat. But there are others who could fill that role as well.”

Welch will also work with Elmore in center field. Ryman hinted that Neely could also see some time in center.

“Our goal is to find the nine best hitters and find places for them,” Ryman said. “I would prefer to keep Neely in the infield.”

There a number of puzzle pieces for Ryman to put together to make a winning combination. If the choices are correct that “V” will also stand for “victories” in the spring.