The Lady Bisons spotted Iowa from the Big 10 four runs in the first inning, but fought back for a 5-4 win. The Lady Bisons started on a less than successful note, falling 1-0 to East Carolina in the first game of the tournament. Both games were played at Jack Turner Stadium.
Coach Kristin Ryman was happy with a number of things about the first two games of the season.
Courtney Billington, Mollie Mitchell and Vanessa Medina all three had some solid performances at the plate. They are filling the spots in the middle of the batting order with Billington batting third, Mitchell in the fourth spot and Medina hitting fifth. Billington was the only Lady Bisons player to not strike out in either game.
“Courtney had pretty good at bats all day,” Ryman said. “Mollie’s at bats got a lot better in the second game. I’m really excited about the quality of Vanessa’s at bats.
“That’s what we need in the middle part of the order is to have our veterans step up. They set the tone and give the young ones more of a chance to work the kinks out and get more comfortable in the lineup.”
The Lady Bisons had as many as three freshmen on the field in each game, but did not commit an error in 14 innings.
Mitchell played third against Iowa allowing Haley Elliott to get her first start as a catcher. Freshman Shelby Cunningham made an outstanding catch in left field against Iowa. Freshman Bridgette Begle was impressive at second base in both games.
“Defensively, we were really solid,” Ryman said. “Mollie threw a runner out stealing. We did a really nice job just making the routine plays.
“We had not been able to get outside as much as we wanted to the past few days. We knew we were talented on defense, but it was a matter of getting some reps out on the dirt.”
In the Iowa game freshman Lipscomb pitcher J.J. Nelson had a rough first inning in her collegiate debut. She walked two batters and hit another and then allowed a run to score on an illegal pitch. She also gave up a three-run home run to left field by Jenny Schuelke.
“There were a lot of nerves for J.J.,” Ryman said. “She was working through some of that.
“She settled down. She was throwing pretty well after the first inning. She is not going to be a strikeout pitcher. Overall J.J. realized how important it is to work ahead of batters and be smart on different counts. For the first time she experienced that in a game setting.”
The Lady Bisons wasted little time chipping away at the Iowa lead. In the bottom of the first Mitchell doubled to right field to score Billington who had reached base on a single.
In the third Mackenzie Tucker led off with a walk. She advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt by Billington and went to third on a wild pitch. She scored when Medina hit a fly ball that was dropped by the center fielder.
Elliott hit her first collegiate double to center field to bring Medina home with the third run of the game.
Breanna Thurman singled to center field to drive in Elliott with the tying run.
The Lady Bisons scored what proved to be the go-ahead run in the fourth. Billington hit a two-out single to center to score Cunningham who had led off the inning with a single.
The Lady Bisons had seven hits. Billington led the way with two.
Nelson pitched 3.1 innings and gave up two hits. She walked six and allowed four runs, all earned. Whitney Kiihnl came on in relief and threw 3.2 scoreless innings, striking out five and allowing two hits.
East Carolina 1, Lady Bisons 0 Kiihnl threw a complete game for the Lady Bisons against East Carolina. She scattered four hits, struck out seven and walked eight, a personal career high. Toni Paisley pitched a complete game for East Carolina. She gave up two hits, struck out 12 and walked two.
Ryman had expected a pitching duel.
East Carolina scored the lone run of the game in the second inning when Kiihnl walked a batter with bases loaded. Jordan Lewis had opened the inning with a single through the left side. Kiihnl then walked three batters, two with two outs, including Kristi Oshiro who brought in Lewis.
“Early on we could tell Whitney was not quite where she needed to be,” Ryman said. “She got better and more comfortable as the game went on.
“I was really proud of the way she came back in the second game. But the walks were a big killer in the first game. Most of their runners were from walks.”
The Lady Bisons threatened in the seventh inning with bases loaded with two outs. With one out Medina singled through the left side. She was replaced by pinch-runner Lacy Walker.
Elliott reached base on an error by East Carolina’s second baseman. Rena’ Cothron, who had the Lady Bisons only other hit, struck out. Thurman ran the count to 3-2 and walked to load the bases with two outs.
Begle was set to bat, but was replaced by fellow freshman Kristen Sturdivant who struck out swinging to end the game.
Saturday’s schedule The Lady Bisons are back in action in the tournament Saturday facing Illinois State at 2 and Maryland at 6.
“No one in this tournament is a cupcake,” Ryman said. “We have to go into every game at the top of our game.
“Illinois State is an extremely good offensive team. They are going to force us to make plays. They make things happen with their speed. They have a lot of power. Maryland is typically a speed team. I expect them to give us a really good game.”
Written by Mark McGee, Senior Publisher/Director of Media Relations.