SPARTANBURG, S.C. – The wait is over for the Lipscomb Lady Bisons softball team.
The last time Lipscomb and USC Upstate met in a softball game was in the championship round of the Atlantic Sun Tournament last season.
The Lady Bisons entered the finals undefeated in the tournament, including a win over USC Upstate. But the Lady Bisons fell twice that day to USC Upstate, losing a chance for the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
This weekend’s three-game series is a crucial one for both teams. The Lady Bisons are 27-5 overall, 8-3 in the conference. They are ranked 30th in the first NCAA Division I RPI poll. USC Upstate is 29-4, 10-2 in the A-Sun. The Spartans lead the conference and are ranked 25th in the RPI.
“We have been winning games, but there are still things we can do better,” Lady Bisons coach Kristin Ryman said. “I would like to see us win games more convincingly instead of just winning them.
“We aren’t going to have to worry about getting them up for this series. We have to make sure we are going out and attacking. Our team is very different when we approach games that way. We want to see an attack mode from the get-go.”
The two teams faced each other six times last season. The Lady Bisons won the regular season series 2-1, but were 1-2 against Upstate in the tournament at Lipscomb.
The Lady Bisons hold a 14-6 lead overall in the series.
Expected heavy rain Friday and Saturday has already resulted in schedule changes. The two teams will meet for one game at 5 p.m. Saturday at Cyrill Stadium. They will play a doubleheader Sunday with the first game beginning at 11 a.m.
“We know we are going to be challenged by Upstate,” Ryman said. “We respect what they do on the field, the athletes they have and how they play the game.
“If they are attacking us more so than we are them it is going to be difficult to get out of this. We can’t play on our heels.”
Third baseman Paige Neely leads the Lady Bisons in several offensive categories: batting average (.411). runs (33) hits (46), doubles (10) and slugging percentage (.598). She enters the series with a nine-game hitting streak, the second longest on the team this season.
First baseman Kristen Sturdivant paces the team in home runs with seven and runs batted in with 32. She also leads the team in multiple RBI games with 10.
Eight of the nine regular hitters for the Lady Bisons are in double figures in RBI.
Left-hander Ashley Anderson leads the Lady Bisons with a 12-0 record. She is one short of her career season-high in victories set in 2012. She has already shattered her old strikeout mark of 59 set in the same season. She has 69 to go with a 1.46 earned run average.
Upstate has two players batting .400 or higher – Shellie Robinson leads the team with a .412 average and Kendall Settlemyre is hitting .400. Five more players are batting in the .300s.
Robinson leads the team with 11 home runs, 11 doubles, 33 RBI and a .863 slugging percentage.
Lexi Shubert is the top pitcher for the Spartans with a 12-1 record and 0.90 ERA. She has 98 strikeouts in 93 innings. Anna Miller is 10-2 with a 1.57 ERA and Hannah Alexander is 7-1 with a 1.06 ERA.
“They do everything well,” Ryman said. ‘They hit well. They pitch well. They field well.
“Something has to give. We have to control how we approach the series and let the chips fall where they will. We have to approach it with a confident attack mentality. That is something we can control.”
Upstate did not play a mid-week game. The Lady Bisons scored two runs in the eighth inning Wednesday night to beat Memphis on the road. The Lady Bisons are 4-0 in extra inning games.
Ryman is urging her players to keep their emotions at an appropriate level.
“At times this season I would have liked to see us be more on an even keel than being too high or too low,” Ryman said. “I think going into this weekend I would almost rather see us on the high end. But we don’t want to let our emotions get out of control.
“We are in that middle part of the season and like every team out there you get into a rut. A lot of teams have been traveling for awhile like us. School is catching up with you and you start feeling tired. But you get a second wind and push through to the end. This weekend can be a turning point for us to get our second wind.”