Saturday night in a nine-inning struggle with UAB the Lady Bisons didn’t have just one hero. There were several to pick from.
The Lady Bisons jumped out to a 5-0 lead in the first three innings. UAB scored a run in the fifth and then struck for five in the seventh to take a 6-5 lead. The Lady Bisons scored a run in the bottom of the inning to send the game into extra innings.
The Lady Bisons also celebrated winning their 50th game, the most ever by a Lady Bisons softball team. Coach Kristin Ryman was drenched after the team dumped a cooler of water on her.
In the ninth, with two outs and runners on second and third Caroline Mason singled down the left field line to bring home Mitchell with the game-winning run. Mason finished with three hits even though she was replaced briefly by Breanna Thurman, tying her season high. She gets the award as hero No. 1.
“My high school coach always told me that the big, round, yellow thing is what you have to focus on and that is what I did,” Mason, a sophomore right fielder, said. “I tried not to think about it being a pressure situation. I’ve always been taught to relax in situations like that, breath and pray. Tensing up doesn’t do anything to help you.”
Mason, the eighth hitter in the lineup, missed several games with an injury. She credits coach Kristin Ryman with helping rebuild her confidence.
“Caroline overall had good at bats,” Ryman said. “When we get hits like that from the bottom of the order it is a plus. She wants to be in there when the game is on the line.
“When you watch her she is not necessarily a No. 8 hitter. But she is there for us because she has been working her way back from a slower start than she had last year.”
The Lady Bisons will need a lot of heroes Sunday as well when they have a rematch with Alabama, the No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. The Lady Bisons lost to them 5-2 Saturday. The game is scheduled for 1:30 at the Alabama Softball Complex. If the Lady Bisons win, a second game will be played at 4 p.m.
The games can be seen on video streamining on rolltide.com. Audio streaming is available at lipscombsports.com.
Kiihnl pitched into the seventh inning. In the sixth she pitched out of a bases-loaded jam. But in the seventh she walked the first batter she faced in that inning and then gave up a single.
Lady Bisons coach Kristin Ryman decided to bring in Alaina Jacobson in relief. Earlier in the day Jacobson had pitched three scoreless innings in the 5-2 loss to top-seeded Alabama.
But against UAB Jacobson walked the first batter she faced, gave up a single to the next hitter and then hit the third batter she faced. Four runs scored before Kiihnl returned to the game. She was able to strike out the first batter she faced, but a throwing error by Kellie Sirus allowed the go ahead run to score. Sirus then redeemed herself making an outstanding play on a hard hit ground ball to end the inning.
Kiihnl, a sophomore, literally made her pitch for hero No. 2. She stayed in the game and earned the win, raising her record to 33-4. But it wasn’t easy for Kiihnl. She threw 159 pitches in the game, 113 of them for strikeouts. She needed a hydration break after she returned to the game due to a cramp in her pitching hand.
“I asked to be taken out,” Kiihnl said. “My hand was sweating. I couldn’t grip the ball. I had a towel but it wasn’t helping me any. I was getting a little tired.”
Ryman trusted Kiihnl’s judgment when she asked to be pulled from the game. She also had trust in Kiihnl when she asked her to go back into the game.
“Whitney knows herself enough to know when she’s hit that wall,” Ryman said. “We all thought it was a good opportunity to put Alaina in to close the door.
“Obviously, things didn’t work out as we planned. They hit Alaina will and got back into it. We looked at Whitney and said, `Whit, we need you to go back.’ She looked at me and just grabbed her glove and went back out there and gutted it out. She gave us everything she had.”
Shortstop Courtney Billington, also a sophomore, connected for five hits, a team season single game high. Billington, who hit her 18th double, and center fielder Lauren Dortwegt had been tied for the single game high with four hits. Billington also had a game-high three runs batted in. She gets the fourth hero award.
“For me it is just about staying relaxed, not thinking too much and just being confident in myself and my team,” Billington said. “This was definitely not the way we wanted the game to go. We had to stay strong.”
The fifth and final hero, though all of the Lady Bisons were heroes on some level, is sophomore catcher Mollie Mitchell who slammed a two-run homer to center field in the third inning.
“So many of the sophomores stepped up huge with the big plays and big hits when we needed them,” Ryman said. “That is going to pay big dividends in the future."
Also in double figures in hits were Kellie Sirus and Lauren Dortwegt who each had two hits. The Lady Bisons finished with 15 for the game, two short of their season high.
Ryman admits she didn't think the Lady Bisons had the game won after three innings, but she didn't see an extra innings game developing.
“We didn’t think we already had the game won, but the way things started, realistically, we thought we had done enough,” Ryman said. “We tried to keep pounding away.
“I’m impressed the way UAB came back and made it into a game late. We have tremendous respect for UAB. I think our fatigue started showing late in the game and obviously into extra innings. I’m incredibly proud of the way we fought and never gave in when we might have just turned it in and been done.”
The Lady Bisons are 50-12. UAB finished the season with a 37-22 record.
Written by Mark McGee, Senior Publisher/Director of Media Relations.