Actually it has waited for the weather as a combination of rain and snow in Mobile, Ala., prompted cancellation of the first day of the Mardi Gras Invitational today. The tournament is hosted by South Alabama and is being played at Jaguar Field.
The Lady Bisons, the preseason favorite to win both the Atlantic Sun Conference regular season, had been scheduled to play Central Arkansas this afternoon. Instead, they will play their first regular season game Saturday morning at 9 against Western Kentucky.
“We haven’t worked outside as much as we would have liked,” said coach Kristin Ryman who is starting her fifth season as head coach of the Lady Bisons. “We got out for awhile when we first started team practice with a week-and-half of great weather. Since then we have had a lot of snow, a lot of rain and a lot of cold weather.
“We have had a chance to get a lot of hitting work in even though we have been inside. Our pitchers have thrown live to our hitters inside. We have made do with our situation. I’m not too concerned with it, but we definitely haven’t got outside as much as we would have liked.”
Central Arkansas returns 11 players from last season. The Bears were 24-31 last season.
The Lady Bisons return all nine starters from last season, but there will be a different look in the middle of the infield. Senior Abby Keese, a preseason All-Conference selection, will be starting at second base. Sophomore Courtney Billington will move to shortstop.
“Abby has been very open-minded, and we truly appreciate that,” Ryman said. “She is somebody who just wants to be in the field and be in the lineup. And she is somebody we need in the lineup.
“This fall and early this spring it has been a matter of her getting used to playing second base. Courtney brings quickness to the table. Abby is versatile enough to easily make the change to second. Abby has handled it well.”
Sophomore Whitney Kiihnl, A-Sun Freshman of the Year last season, is expected to get the start in the season opener. Sophomore Mollie Mitchell will be behind the plate.
“We are leaning towards starting Whitney right now,” Ryman said. “We have talked about trying to determine some different match-ups. We play Western Kentucky Saturday, a team that we are more familiar with. We would like to create ourselves a good match-up in that game.”
Kiihnl was 18-9 last season with 230 strike outs. Ryman and pitching coach Lexi Meyers have been working with Kiihnl on expanding her pitching choices.
“Whitney has relied a lot on a few pitches,” Ryman said. “She throws those few pitches so well that she has been very effective. With one year in the conference under her belt she isn’t going to be a surprise anymore.
“She has added a couple of pitches. She is really working a lot on the consistency factor and lowering her number of walks. She has to be the same pitcher with runners on as she is when they are not. I think she is a better pitcher now than she was last year.”
Ryman could also choose to use either senior Alaina Jacobson or senior Christen Campbell in the opener. Senior Christy Grisham and freshman Ali Watson also are expected to get some work during the tournament.
“We feel confident with our pitchers right now,” Ryman said. “We are going to have a lot of options off of the mound.”
Rounding out the infield will be senior Kellie Sirus, the Atlantic Sun Preseason Player of the Year, at first base and Campbell at third.
In the outfield will be Mackenzie Tucker in left, senior Lauren Dortwegt in center and freshman Breanna Thurman in right.
The Lady Bisons will play SIU-Edwardsville at 11:30 a.m. Saturday. Sunday they close out the tournament against South Alabama at 2.
“I think it is a great tournament to start with,” Ryman said. “We are definitely going to be challenged right away. But I think we need that.
“We have some tough games ahead of us. We are going to have some tough games in the conference. If we can get some wins early in the season and build some confidence it is going to make a difference for us. We have to go out and perform.”
Written by Mark McGee, Senior Publisher/Director of Media Relations