MACON, Ga. – The 2012 Atlantic Sun All-Conference awards were handed out Tuesday. Five Lady Bisons were honored based on votes from the conference coaches.
Junior Kelsey Cartwright earned a spot on the All-Conference first team thanks to a team-leading 15 home runs and 42 RBI and was second in the A-Sun in both categories. The Auburn transfer has the second-most single-season home runs in school history behind Kellie Sirus’ 17 in 2010.
"Kelsey has been a game-changer this year offensively,” said head coach Kristin Ryman. “She has truly been one of the best in the A-Sun, and has earned the respect of opposing teams. Kelsey is the type of player we want at the plate with the game on the line. She can line it into the gap, hit it out of the park, or beat out an infield single...she can do it all and has been a big impact both on our team and around the A-Sun.
“Kelsey has put up some of the best single-season numbers of any player ever to play at Lipscomb. She is a dynamite type of player that is competitive and has the ability and drive to lead us to a championship."
Senior Whitney Kiihnl and sophomore Haley Elliott were placed on the second team. Kiihnl went 22-12 to earn her third 20-win season in four years with the Lady Bisons. She became the third pitcher in Atlantic Sun history to strike out more than 1,000 batters and led the A-Sun with 211 this season. She no-hit Butler on Feb. 18 and was a three-time A-Sun Pitcher of the Week honoree in 2012.
Kiihnl is just the eighth player in Atlantic Sun history to earn All-Conference honors all four years of her career, and the first Lady Bison softball player to do so.
"There is so much to say about Whitney and what she has done this year and throughout her career, but her numbers really speak for themselves,” Ryman said. “She is one of the best to ever play in the A-Sun, and she is the type of pitcher that no one wants to face this time of year with so much on the line. She has been a program-changer for us, and has one last shot to go out on top.
“While there were some good pitchers around the league this year, Whitney still stood out as one of the best. She gives us a chance to win every time out...she has done that for four years, and there is not much more you can ask for from a pitcher. She has been an All-Conference performer since her freshman year, and we are happy to see her honored one last time."
Elliott was often an unsung hero in 2012, hitting 10 home runs and batting .298. The Lexington, Tenn. native upped her average to .321 in A-Sun play.
“We are so proud of what Haley has done this year to help our team,” Ryman said. “As a member of the All-Freshman team last year, she continued to find ways to improve this season, and has really taken her game to the next level. Haley is a strong catcher, but she has been so patient and unselfish in understanding that while she hasn't been behind the plate, she has had an opportunity to impact our team in other ways.
“She was challenged at the beginning of the year to really earn an everyday spot in the lineup, and she did it so impressively. She has not only been clutch this year at the plate, but she continues to grow and develop at first base. She is one of our most coachable players, and we are happy to see her be honored this way."
Freshmen Gracey Aguirre and Ashley Anderson earned spots on the All-Freshman team. In her redshirt year, Anderson developed into a solid complement to Kiihnl’s No. 1 starter role, quietly compiling a 12-6 record and 3.17 ERA. She won seven conference decisions, third-most among all conference hurlers.
"Ashley has come into an incredibly tough situation this year and been such a positive influence,” Ryman said. “With only two main pitchers, Ashley worked extremely hard this fall to recover from a season-ending surgery last year. She not only recovered, but rose to the occasion and was impressive in her first season going 7-1 in A-Sun play.
“Ashley will be a major part of the future of Lady Bison softball, and she gained so much valuable experience this year. She still has so much untapped potential...she is the type of pitcher that truly earns all that she gets, and we believe that will be a lot of wins before her career is over."
Aguirre, who was the April 16 A-Sun Player of the Week, hit .270 with two home runs and 16 RBI in her first year at Lipscomb. She hit .286 in conference play and only struck out seven times in 115 at-bats.
"Gracey came into our program as a corner infielder, but after a few weeks of the season, it became evident that we needed her bat in the lineup,” Ryman said. “We asked her to start working in the outfield, and although she had never played there before, she did so for the good of the team.
“Gracey was one of our most consistent players early in the conference season, and ended up making her way to the top part of the order. She had the fewest strikeouts on the team which is unusual for a freshman making the transition to the college game. But she has a very natural, pure swing that we truly believe is only going to get better. Gracey may find her way back into the infield in future years, but she is definitely a major piece of the future for our program."
Ryman is proud of the work her players put in to reach these heights and the contributions they’ve made to the program.
"We are so proud of these girls and what they have accomplished this year,” Ryman said. “But more importantly, we are proud of what they mean to our team. The best players cannot win games on their own, and we have an entire team full of very talented players. It is always nice to see players from your team honored, but if you were to ask any of these girls what it means to them, they would all say they want a championship more.
“We have always had one goal in mind, and through all of the obstacles we have faced this year, these girls have been the consistent performers to help us get there. This team is determined to play the best ball we can play tomorrow, and that is where it begins."
The Lady Bisons open the Atlantic Sun Tournament Wednesday at 3 p.m. (ET) against fifth-seed and defending champion Jacksonville in Spartanburg, S.C.