The Lady Bisons are here at Patricia Wilson Field on the campus of Stetson University for the third year in a row in the Atlantic Sun Conference Softball Tournament. This is the fourth time in the last five years that the Lady Bisons have participated in the tournament. The winner gets an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, a goal that has eluded the Lady Bisons in those previous four trips.
“The good part is that we did play Stetson a couple of weeks ago and that we played in the heat there,” said Lady Bisons coach Kristin Peck. “We have been on their field and know the surface. It is a nice field and an atmosphere we feel very comfortable in. I think that will be a plus.”
This time around the Lady Bisons, 37-12, 15-5 in the A-Sun, are the No. 2 seed. They will face ETSU, 27-26, 6-14 in the conference, the No. 5 seed, Thursday morning at 10 in the first round of the double elimination tournament. Win or lose they will play one more game Thursday.
The Lady Bisons beat ETSU 3-0 and 3-1 on the road in Johnson City on April 10. They are 3-6 overall against the Lady Buccaneers in the NCAA era.
“We are very familiar with ETSU,” said Peck. “We have faced them in the tournament before. They have a good pitcher in Marissa Hardy. We saw her twice this season. She gives them a chance to win every time she throws.
“Offensively, they have some speed. When they get on base they push the issue. We are going to have to really step up our game defensively. We will have to be alert and be ready to make plays. They definitely present some challenges.”
Last year the Lady Bisons were the No. 1 seed. In many ways Peck likes being No. 2 this time around.
“We found out last year that seeding doesn’t really mean lot once you get to the tournament,” said Peck. “This is kind of when the gloves are off and everyone is fighting to the championship.
“It means a lot to me that we are the No. 2 seed. It means a lot to our team that we have worked hard enough and gotten it done all year long to be in this position. But it is a matter of getting it done right now.”
The Lady Bisons don’t have a senior on the team. Four freshmen have been playing key roles with the team this season, including right-handed pitcher Whitney Kiihnl, the A-Sun Freshman of the Year. Peck isn’t making a big deal of the tournament for the freshmen.
“Our older players, by their actions are going to show the younger players what this is all about,” said Peck. “It doesn’t matter what you have done all year long. It is a matter of what you do right now.
“Everybody is turning it up a notch. Everybody is trying to gain as many advantages they can in every game.”
The Lady Bisons enter the tournament with the strongest pitching staff they have ever assembled in Kiihnl, Alaina Jacobson and Christen Campbell.
“I guess, if we have had a workhorse, it has been Whitney,” said Peck. “But Alaina and Christen have thrown a lot of innings as well. It is very unique to have a staff that has put up the stats that they have and for all three to have won 10-plus games.
“Any of the three can get it done. That is a huge advantage for us as opposed to the past.”
Peck is expecting either tight ballgames, where both teams score a lot of runs, or pitchers’ duels.
“Whoever makes the fewest mistakes is going to win,” said Peck. “We have seen that with several teams we have faced this year already.”
Despite the success of the Lady Bisons this season, Peck is reminding all of her players that in the tournament everyone starts at 0-0.
“We are not going to just walk out on the field and beat anybody,” said Peck. “We have to step on the field, play our game and bring an intensity and cut-throat attitude.”