ORLANDO, Fla. _ The Lady Bison softball team is here in the "happiest place on earth", but they won't be happy unless they leave the ESPN Citrus Classic with some wins.
The Lady Bison, 7-3, open the three-day tournament Friday morning at 9 a.m. (CT) against Long Island-Brooklyn and then face South Alabama at 11:15. All games in the tournament are being played at the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex at Walt Disney World.
"Long Island is a very good team," Lady Bison softball coach Kristin Ryman said. "They have competed well with some big name teams and some ranked teams. They are definitely going to be as tough of a challenge as we have in this whole tournament right off the bat.
"Then we turn around and play South Alabama. They have a very athletic team with good pitching and good hitting. They recruit well. It is a team on the rise."
Weather could be an issue with thunderstorms a possibility on both Saturday and Sunday. Saturday the Lady Bison play Penn State at 3:45 p.m. and then challenge Ball State at 6.
"Penn State is a big name team trying to compete better and better in the Big 10," Ryman said. "They get a lot of players from out west.
"Ball State is a mid-major like us, but they compete extremely well against higher level teams. They are well-coached. They pitch well. They have good athletes. They are going to force the issue from an offensive standpoint."
Sunday, the Lady Bison conclude the tournament against St. John's at 10:15 a.m.
"They have played a tough schedule," Ryman said. "They have been in a lot of games and have just come up on the wrong side. St. John's is a team that could definitely beat us."
The Lady Bison lost to Alabama State 6-1 in the Mardi Gras Tournament in Mobile, Ala. They have not played Ball State since 2008. It will be the first time they have faced Long Island, Penn State or St. John's.
"There are a lot of unknowns there," Ryman said in reference to the tournament field. "This is a quality tournament with teams that are competing every year to play in the NCAA Tournament. These are the type of teams we want to play before we get into the conference. It is going to be a neat stage for us to be on."
The Lady Bison were 4-0 last weekend in the College of Charleston Classic. The players expect that success to continue.
"We have to be on our A-game to be in these games and win these games," Ryman said. "A lot of it could come down to little details here and there that could make it or break it for us.
"Our players are feeling very, very confident right now. They are swinging the bats with a lot more confidence. One through nine, and even off of the bench we have got some really, really good hitters."
Ryman credits the offensive improvements to a mentality shift.
"We are attacking the ball better," Ryman said. "We are seeing a lot of good things offensively.
"We are being aggressive on the bases. We are trying to take advantage of any little mistake that we can. The girls have a lot of confidence. That is what you want going into a big tournament like this."
One of the biggest offensive standouts has been transfer Kelsey Cartwright, who was 7-of-14 in the College of Charleston Tournament.
"Kelsey expects to get a hit every game...she expects to get two or three hits every game," Ryman said. "That is her mentality. She is not going to settle for anything less.
"To have somebody like that in the middle of your order really toughens the mentality of our line-up. We don't need her to get every big hit for us, but she is certainly going to get her share."
Starting pitcher Whitney Kiihnl brings a 7-2 record into the tournament. Ashley Anderson is also expected to spend more time on the mound.
"We gave the ball to Whitney a lot last weekend," Ryman said. "She seemed to get stronger and stronger as the weekend went on which is tough. She is expecting even more out of herself from a mental toughness standpoint.
"Her mentality is improving tremendously by the day. She is keeping herself in a position where she can control of a game and get outs by just making a pitch. She doesn't have to get nine or 10 strikeouts a game."
Anderson has been limited in work this season due to an injury and sickness.
"Ashley has all of the ability in the world," Ryman said. "She has had a few rough breaks so far.
"There are a lot of really good things about Ashley as a pitcher. She just needs a couple of outings to build her confidence."
Written by Mark McGee, Senior Publisher/Director of Media Relations.