It was the first NCAA Regional appearance for both Lipscomb and UAB. Lady Bisons coach Kristin Ryman had stressed the need to take control of the game early in an effort to chase away the nerves.
The Lady Bisons had split a doubleheader with UAB April 20, winning 1-0 and losing 7-5. They scored one run in the first, two in the second and added another in the fifth on the way to a 4-1 win over UAB from Conference-USA..
“I couldn’t be more proud of the way we came out and jumped on them early,” Ryman said. “Any time we score first it takes the pressure off. It definitely takes the pressure off our pitcher, Whitney Kiihnl.
“There are always some nerves that are present when you’re playing in your first Regional. We were familiar with UAB already which was a good thing going in. I’m just glad we walked away with a win in our first game.”
The Lady Bisons will face Alabama, the regional host and No. 1 seed, Saturday at 1:30. The Crimson Tide is 49-9 and advanced by beating Alcorn State Friday night 9-0 in a game called in the fifth inning due to the eight-run lead rule. Alcorn State, from the Southwestern Athletic Conference, finished its season with a 24-25 record.
Fans can listen to the game at http://www.lipscombsports.com/sportsnetwork/ or watch the video stream at rolltide.com.
Kiihnl, a sophomore, struck out 11 batters, the 16th time she has reached double figures in strikeouts this season. Kiihnl, 32-3, pitched a no-hitter against UAB, a 1-0 decision at Draper Diamond, the last time she faced them.
She only gave up three hits and walked one, but she admitted she never felt truly in command on the mound. “I was nervous and was like `please don’t hit it’ today,” Kiihnl said. “I’ve never been at Regionals so I guess the nerves got to me a little bit.”
Ryman plans to send Kiihnl, the A-Sun Player of the Year and Pitcher of the Year, to the mound as often as possible in the Regional. While she admits the UAB outing was not Whitney’s best she knows that Kiihnl is always going to pitch well enough to keep the Lady Bisons in a game.
“She has been that difference maker,” Ryman said. “Whitney is that `next-level’ pitcher for us.
“At this stage and at this level it was good for her to get this first game under her belt to calm her nerves.”
UAB coach Marla Townsend called Kiihnl one of the top pitchers her team has seen this season.
“If you see her presence out there, she is very impressive,” Townsend said. “She can get down and find a way to work back.
“Conference-USA has some very good pitchers, and we have faced Kelsi Dunne on a couple of occasions. Ball State has an outstanding pitcher as well. I would say that she is one of the top five pitchers we have faced.”
The Lady Bisons, led by three hits from junior left fielder Mackenzie Tucker, finished with 11 hits against UAB’s Alisha Smith who evened her record at 13-13.
Also in double figures in hits for the Lady Bisons were senior third baseman Christen Campbell and senior second baseman Abby Keese.
Tucker pounded the first hit of the game, a double that went over UAB’s left fielder and rolled to the wall for a double. Tucker scored the first run of the game when sophomore shortstop Courtney Billington doubled to shallow right field.
“We have a very good offense as we showed,” Tucker said. “We all play our best when we are pumped up, but individually relaxed. We get in this mindset where it doesn’t matter who we’re playing or what pitcher is throwing.”
It marked only the second time since 2002 that an Atlantic Sun Conference school has won the opening game in an NCAA Regional. The last time it happened was in 2006 when former conference member Florida Atlantic beat Florida 2-0.
The Lady Bisons almost pulled off the shutout. But UAB’s Kayla Orr drove a home run over the center field wall to lead off the seventh inning.
The Lady Bisons raised their record to 49-11, tying the all-time victory mark set in the NAIA era under coach Andy Lane in 1997. The win total also ties Florida Atlantic for fourth on the A-Sun all-time victories list. Florida Atlantic had 49 wins in 1994.
“I don’t know if it has really sunk in that we have won our first NCAA Regional game,” Ryman said. “We are not here to try to do a bunch of first. We are here to play our game and keep winning.
“If we accomplish some records and have a few first along the way then so be it. This is a team that has really made a name for itself. It has really set the mark for what this program is all about. I can’t say enough about how special this team has been all year.”
Written by Mark McGee, Senior Publisher/Director of Media Relations.