They start play Friday at the Chanticleer Challenge hosted by Coastal Carolina. In addition to the hosts the field includes Georgia Tech, Kansas and Providence College.
The Lady Bisons open play at 9 a.m. against Kansas. They will play Georgia Tech at 1:30.
Saturday they start the day with Georgia Tech at 9 a.m. followed by Providence College at 1:30.
Sunday they close out the tournament against Coastal Carolina at 1.
These will be the final games before the Lady Bisons open Atlantic Sun play.
“This tournament field will be as tough as any we have faced this year,” Lady Bisons coach Kristin Ryman said. “We open with a strong Kansas team that is off to their best start in school history. We faced them last year in Chattanooga and had a come-from-behind win, but they will be a different team this time around. They are hitting well as a team right now and will be a tough test right off the bat.
"Georgia Tech is as strong a hitting team as we will face this year. One through nine, they hit extremely well. They also have some strong pitching in Kristen Adkins and Hope Rush. They are a top 25 team that competes well every year and is a regular NCAA Tournament participant. To face them twice will be a great challenge and one that we are looking forward to facing.”
Providence and Coastal Carolina are not major names, but Ryman expects both to be equally as challenging.
Providence is a little more of an unknown for us,” Ryman said. “We faced them two years ago in Louisiana and came away with the win. They are not off to quite as strong of a start as the others in this tournament, but they have good athletes and will compete.
“Coastal Carolina is a team that has a good softball history. They typically have good athletes and hit well. They like to run and will make things happen on the bases. They play well at home and will be a good test before we get into conference play next week.”
Coastal Carolina, from the Big South, has won eight of 10 games at home this season.
The Lady Bisons have won their last four games, including a doubleheader sweep of Western Carolina Wednesday by scores of 1-0 and 11-2.
“I think we have a lot of momentum from the sweep over Western Carolina,” Ryman said. “We had not played in over a week due to multiple rain outs, so it was great to just get back out there.
“Our hitting exploded, and our confidence level is climbing quickly. This group grows and learns together every time out. Our older girls are starting to show more leadership which is making a big difference in how we carry ourselves on the field.”
Ali Watson threw a complete game win in the nightcap at Western Carolina in her pitching debut for the season. Whitney Kiihnl recorded her fifth shutout of the season in game one. Kiihnl has an 8-4 record and a 0.67 earned run average. She has started 11 games and completed 10 of them. In 83.1 innings she has struck out 131 batters. Opposing teams are batting .134 against her.
“We got a big game out of Ali Watson on Wednesday, and Whitney is really throwing well right now,” Ryman said. “Our defense seems to get more solid with each game, and our consistency is starting to come around which is going to make a huge difference this weekend.”
Ryman and pitching coach Lexi Myers plan to use all three pitchers this weekend. J.J. Nelson will be in the mix along with Kiihnl and Watson.
“Everyone knows what Whitney can do, but we have to continue to get some good innings out of J.J. and Ali,” Ryman said. “Both are very capable, and for us to finish near the top of the conference, we will need both of them to step up.
“Ali threw well in her first outing, and that was very promising as we look ahead to this weekend. J.J. has not thrown in awhile, so getting her back out there will be important as well with A-Sun play right around the corner. We anticipate using all three of them this weekend whether in starting or relief roles.”
The hitting outburst against Western Carolina which included four home runs and a triple was a welcome outcome for Ryman. Bree Thurman leads the Lady Bisons in hitting with a .279 average. Courtney Billington has a team-leading 13 hits, including two home runs against Western Carolina, her first of the season. Mollie Mitchell leads the team in home runs (three), doubles (four) and runs batted in (17).
“Courtney had a great day on Wednesday,” Ryman said. “She is really seeing the ball well right now, and is starting to look more like herself.
“She had a breakout year last year, and has just been pressing too much early on this year. When she steps into the box with confidence, she is extremely tough to throw to. She makes our offense go whether she is at the top of the order or in the middle. She is that player that provides speed and power, and she is really starting to look more comfortable at the plate.”
Billington is known for ability as a gap hitter who produces a lot of doubles. But Ryman had been waiting for Billington to show the power she is capable of producing.
“When she connects, she hits the ball as hard as anyone we have,” Ryman said. “She definitely has home run power, and we were not surprised to see her get two on Wednesday,
“She is very capable, but her consistency is going to continue to come around. She is one of our best athletes and has a way of making the players around her better. Her consistency is going to translate into more team consistency.”
Written by Mark McGee, Senior Publisher/Director of Media Relations.