Colder weather is back, but the softball field at Draper Diamond will be heating up this weekend.
The Lipscomb Lady Bisons will play their first Atlantic Sun Conference doubleheaders of the season. ETSU visits Friday at 4 p.m. USC Upstate will be on campus Saturday at 2.
The doubleheader with ETSU is also being billed as “Strike Out Cancer” day. Admission is free. The first 100 fans will receive a free T-shirt. There will also be free hamburgers and hot dogs courtesy of Lipscomb in Motion. Fans are encouraged to bring a breast cancer survivor to a game.
The Lady Bisons are 20-7 overall. ETSU is 9-17. USC Upstate’s record is 17-4. The Lady Bisons are coming off a 1-5 week in Honolulu at the Hawaii Spring Fling against No. 14-ranked California and host Hawaii. She is not concerned that her team will have trouble bouncing back.
“What you want going into conference play is to feel like your team is clicking and do well,” Lady Bisons coach Ryman said. “I feel like we are doing that even though we are coming off of some losses.
“By week’s end our bats were confident. One through nine, and even some players off the bench, still have outstanding numbers. We didn’t get everything we wanted but we got a lot better.”
The Lady Bisons are led offensively in several categories by second baseman Abby Keese. She leads the conference in hitting with a .407 average and also leads in total bases with 61. She is tied for the lead in home runs with seven.
“Abby is such a competitor,” Ryman said. “She loves the big games. She loves having the opportunity to get the big hit in a big game.
“When there is a sense that the team is down a little bit, Abby is trying to fire people up when they go to the plate. That is just Abby. There are times when she sparks us and makes some good things happen.”
Shortstop Courtney Billington is tied for first in the conference in doubles with 12.
First baseman Kellie Sirus is second in the conference in runs batted in with 22. She is tied for second in triples with two. She is fourth in total bases with 53. Sirus and Lady Bisons centerfielder Lauren Dortwegt are tied for runs scored with 24.
Pitcher Whitney Kiihnl is tied for second in the conference in hitting with a .400 average. She is also second in earned run average (.87). She is fourth in strikeouts with 155 in 96.1 innings.
The Lady Bisons lead the conference in hitting with a .315 average and are third in pitching with a 1.66 ERA.
ETSU’s Lady Bucs have lost six straight games and 13 of their last 15. Cheniece Cason leads ETSU in hitting with a .325 average. She also has four triples.
The top pitcher for ETSU has been right-hander Jessica Duncan, a transfer from Chattanooga State. She is 5-4 with a 2.69 ERA.
“We haven’t faced Duncan before,” Ryman said. “She is going to present some challenges for us.
“They have some hitters who are not where they are capable of being average-wise, but who at any moment could get a key hit. They have a good amount of team speed. They are very athletic. If they get on base they are going to push the issue.”
Upstate will play Belmont Friday before facing the Lady Bisons. Upstate is led in pitching by right-hander Morgan Childers. She is 15-2. She leads the nation in strikeouts with 13.5 per seven innings.
Katie Zauner leads the Spartans with a .400 average.
“Morgan Childers is an outstanding pitcher,” Ryman said. “We have a tremendous amount of respect for her and the pitcher that she is. She is going to present a lot of challenges. She is going to keep them in any game that she pitches.
“They have good athletes and good hitters. They are going to keep pressure on us defensively.”
Every conference weekend is important, but Ryman, whose team is favored to win both the regular season and conference championships in the A-Sun wants to make a strong statement Friday and Saturday.
“I do think for us it is going to be a key to come out and really make a statement about what we are going to be capable of doing in the A-Sun,” Ryman said. “You want to start off on the right foot in a home conference opener.
“We have two good challenges. I don’t want to put an emphasis on any one series over another. I think every weekend is going to be important.”
Written by Mark McGee, Senior Publisher/Director of Media Relations.