NASHVILLE, Tenn. – When the Lipscomb Lady Bisons lost in the finals of the NCAA Knoxville Regional pitcher Tanner Sanders thought her time facing top-level batters was over until the fall.
She was wrong.
Legendary softball coach Dot Richardson contacted Sanders and asked her if she would like to pitch for a team called the Central Virginia All-Stars. The team would be facing the players vying to play for Team USA in a pair of exhibitions in Lynchburg, Virginia in two games in June.
“Of course, I couldn’t refuse an opportunity like that,” Sanders, a junior this coming season for the Lady Bisons, said. “The team was made up of mostly girls that are from or play in Virginia.
“One girl I played with was about to leave for training with the Women’s USA Baseball team. I thought that was awesome! I met all of the girls and we practiced once. Then it was time to put our abilities to test against the USA National team.”
Sanders is no stranger to facing top competition. This past season she beat Virginia Tech twice (one in the NCAA Knoxville Regional), UAB and shut down Baylor and Iowa on the way to a 12-4 record.
“Most of the girls on my team were talking about how nervous they were, but I never really get nervous on the ball field,” Sanders said. “It is what I have been doing my whole life.
“I did not start the first game, but I came in during the fourth inning and pitched two innings. Then I came in during the fourth inning of the second game and finished the game.”
Sanders threw six innings over two games. She gave up five hits, including two bunts. She only allowed one earned run and struck out five.
“It was one of the coolest things I have ever experienced,” Sanders said. “Pitching against the best players in the whole country and only giving up five hits is such an awesome feeling. Being on the mound against the best hitters out there and only giving up one earned run…I couldn’t ask for anything better.”
The games were played at the home stadium of the Class A Lynchburg Hillcats. The field was a little different than a regular softball field in terms of the design.
“We played on a minor league baseball field with a grass infield,” Sanders said. “That was weird and something I have never had to do before. Most softball players never experience that, but it wasn’t too bad. They cut out a place for the pitcher’s mound so that we could pitch on dirt.”
Sanders, expected to anchor the Lipscomb staff this season, described the opportunity to be tested by the best in softball as an awesome experience.
“Part of what made it so great was playing for Dr. Dot Richardson,” Sanders said. “She was such an inspiration. She was always super positive and encouraging. Dot is a two-time Olympic gold medalist, and an expert of the game.
“I hope I get to do it again. Of course, it is a dream of every softball player to get a chance to play for Team USA. I would definitely say that is my dream.”
Lipscomb pitching coach Megan Smith has no doubts that the experience will elevate Sanders’ game to an even higher level.
“It's amazing where this sport can take you!” Smith said. “Tanner played against some of the best players in the nation and not only held her own, but did well.
“The opportunity is one I know she will cherish. Once you've seen the best, it's easier to reach the top!”