“I really think this group is talented enough to compete right away,” Ryman said. “We are going to get major contributions this spring from freshmen.
“It’s exciting to see our program come full circle again. We just graduated a great group, but to bring in another group that is transitioning quickly into being some key players for us is exciting. We work every day in practice to get better whether it is one small thing or something big.”
Sometimes freshmen that have bright falls don’t bloom as strong in the spring. Ryman is hopeful that the four wins over the weekend, including an intense 1-0 defeat of the University of Tennessee Lady Vols, will give the newcomers a confidence boost that will carry them into the regular season.
“In the UT game we were right back to that NCAA Regional- type feeling,” Ryman said. “There were a lot of emotions back-and-forth in the game.
“We don’t want to blow it up into any more than it was, but at the same time it wasn’t like either team was not playing its starters. Both pitchers gave up one hit. UT gave up a home run and we gave up a bunt single in the seventh. Even though it was a fall game both teams wanted to win.”
Several of the freshmen played key roles in the UT game. Shelby Cunningham is making a strong run at the left field position. Haley Elliott’s bat is going to force Ryman to find her a spot at either catcher or designated player. Bridgette Begle appears to have the second base position nailed down.
“Shelby made a couple of outstanding catches in left field,” Ryman said. “Haley got us the big hit with the home run. Rena’ did a good job at third base and had some good at bats where she just battled through the counts. Bridgette is an outstanding athlete who has done well for us throughout the fall.
“The bench was up the entire game. The crowd was really into it. It was a fun thing to be a part of even if it was the fall.”
The starting line-up against the Lady Vols featured Vanessa Medina at first, Begle at second, Courtney Billington at shortstop and Cothron at third. Cunningham started in left with Mackenzie Tucker in center and Bree Thurman in right.
“Shelby had a tremendous weekend,” Ryman said. “She is a laid-back kind of kid. She just goes out and does her job.
“She is quickly becoming more of an impact player in our lineup. She is definitely making a statement. I thought her offense improved a ton.”
Elliott has shown flashes of power at the plate this fall. Based on what Elliott did as a batter in high school Ryman is not surprised at what she has seen.
“Haley improves a little every day whether she is behind the plate at catcher or as a hitter,” Ryman said. “Her power doesn’t surprise me. We have tweaked several things with her since she has been here and she has been extremely open to changing some things. She has worked very hard to make some adjustments so she can be a better and more consistent hitter at this level.”
Cothron is in the mix at third base and Kristen Sturdivant is working out at first base.
Pitchers Ashley Anderson and Jeneva “J.J.” Nelson got some work on the mound. Ryman plans to primarily use both of them, along with sophomore Ali Watson, in a doubleheader against Trevecca Nazarene at Draper Diamond Oct. 20 starting at 5 p.m.
The Lady Bisons played Chipola, one of the top junior college programs in the nation, and Milligan as well as the University of Tennessee.
“We didn’t know a lot about Milligan going in,” Ryman said. “That game was a good opportunity for us to put a lot of freshmen on the field. We had six of our seven freshmen on the field in that game.
“I can’t say enough about how hard they are working right now. We have thrown a lot at them. We have asked quite a bit of them. They have responded well. We are going to keep pushing.”
Written by Mark McGee, Senior Publisher/Director of Media Relations.