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Lady Bisons slugging their way through the season

Thursday, March 29, 2007

March 29, 2007

No one has to remind the Lady Bisons softball team where the Atlantic Sun coaches placed them in the preseason conference poll.

With nine freshmen and one transfer joining the team for 2007, the coaches predicted the Lady Bisons would finish ninth out of 10 teams. Only Belmont was picked lower. No Lady Bisons were picked for any preseason honors.

"They know where we were picked," Lipscomb coach Kristin Peck said. "They are very aware of that. Every time we go out there we want to make a statement."

The Lady Bisons opened A-Sun play with a sweep of Belmont at home at Draper Diamond. The Lady Bisons, with five of those freshmen starting on a regular basis, went to Stetson last week and split a doubleheader with the team the coaches picked to win both the regular season and tournament championships. On Sunday afternoon they beat host Stetson 7-1 in the final day of their invitational tournament.

"We talked about how the game in the tournament did not affect the conference standings, but it was kind of for bragging rights," Peck said. "We were trying to make a statement to the rest of the conference, and anyone we play the rest of the way, that this is the kind of team that we are. You can't take us lightly

"It was a huge confidence builder. It proved to our players that we can compete with any team in the conference. And we do have a shot at the title."

Friday night at Draper Diamond the Lady Bisons put their 3-1 conference record on the line when North Florida (23-14, 1-1) visits for a doubleheader starting at 5 p.m. Saturday afternoon at 3 Jacksonville (10-27, 1-1) visits for another A-Sun doubleheader. This will be the first games for the Lady Bisons since Sunday.

North Florida is second in the A-Sun in pitching with a 1.74 earned run average. UNF's Devyn Findley leads the conference with a 1.28 ERA. She is tied with Christen Campbell of the Lady Bisons for wins with 10. UNF pitcher Katie Brosky has the fourth best ERA in the conference (1.83).

"This is our first full weekend of A-Sun games," Peck said. "North Florida and Jacksonville are both good teams. I don't think that it was a bad thing that we had a week with just practice and no games. Hopefully, we will go into this weekend fresh. It will be a good test for us.

"North Florida beat us pretty good last year. They hit the ball. They are a well-coached team. They are going to come out and attack. We have to be ready for that. We have to come out offensively and do our part. It should be a very good match-up."

The Lady Bisons have been a surprise on many levels so far this season. Starting five freshmen they have posted a 16-15 record. And they head into the weekend series with 30 home runs in 31 games. Gardner-Webb leads the conference with 36.

The Lady Bisons lead the conference in hitting (.321), on-base percentage (.388) and slugging percentage (.483).

"We have a lot of power in the middle of the order," Peck said. "We work and tweak little things between games and mid-week. We spend a lot of time working on getting all the way through the ball and staying on the pitch and hitting it where it is pitched.

"We have tried to stress to our players not to carry their last at-bat to their next one. Whether they go up and hit a home run or strikeout once that at-bat is over then it's over. They have to learn from each at-bat, but they also have to approach each at-bat as their first. It is paying off for us."

Freshman Kellie Sirus has hit nine home runs, tying her for second in the conference. Freshman Abby Keese had eight after hitting four over the weekend. Junior Heather Collins also has eight. Only three position players have not hit at least one home run.

Keese is second in the A-Sun in hitting with a .393 average. Freshman Lauren Dortwegt is fourth batting .387. Collins is tied for eighth with a .358 average.

Collins is tied for second in runs batted in (37) and has the highest RBI percentage per game (1.19).

Three players are in the top five in the A-Sun in slugging percentage. Keese is second (.708). Collins is third (.674) and Kellie Sirus is fifth (.663).

"We have a lot of power in the middle, but we have had a home run from Leigh Little at the top of the order and a home run from Kristie Sirus who bats at the bottom of the order," Peck said. "We have got several players like that. They are not going to get the big home run totals for the year, but they get one or two or three. It is just really helping us out."

Having so many power threats all the way through the lineup has made the Lady Bisons a challenge for opposing pitchers.

"It gives you a little bit of an edge," Peck said. "It is hard to walk a batter to get to another batter knowing that the other batter has just as much of a power punch as the batter you just walked. I would think that would be tough for the other team to do."

Peck was concerned about starting so many freshmen at the start of the season, but she is glad they are gaining so much experience.

"This is going to do us a lot of good down the road, and for years to come," Peck said. "Early on it looked like a negative, but they are talented. Even though they are young and inexperienced on this level, they have played for some great travel club team and on some very good high school teams.

"They have come in here wanting to prove something. They want to prove that they belong at this level. We are trying to get our program to another level and they knew that coming in as well."