MACON, Ga. – The Lipscomb Lady Bisons are well-represented in Atlantic Sun Conference softball recognition.
The conference announced Tuesday that second baseman Brittany Elmore and third baseman Paige Neely were both named First Team All-Conference. Right fielder Gracey Aguirre earned Second Team honors.
Elmore and pitcher Tanner Sanders were unanimous selections for the A-Sun All-Freshman Team. Catcher Mickey Bell was also named to the team.
Center fielder Bree Thurman, with a 4.0 grade point average in accounting, was selected as a member of the A-Sun All-Academic Team.
In other awards announced Tuesday Elmore was named A-Sun Freshman of the Year by “College Sports Madness”. She was also named First Team All-Conference. Neely was named Second Team as a utility player.
The following is a breakdown on the honored players:
Elmore has been a force for the Purple and Gold on several levels. She has shattered the season record for stolen bases with 33 and ranks 23rd nationally with an average of .61 per game. Batting lead-off she leads the team in hitting (.342), hits (64), runs scored (38) and triples (4).
“As a freshman you want to come in, have an impact and try to get better and learn,” LU coach Kristin Ryman said. “Early on in the fall Brittany was resisting some things. Then she finally started talking to us more and we had some good conversations.
“She became more coachable. As coaches it takes us some time to get to know the freshmen and how to coach them. We have to learn what they will respond to and what they won’t. That is true with freshmen every year. She has been a joy to coach this season.”
Elmore opened the season in right field, but moved to second base after 16 games. She has made only four errors this season.
“She has handled the transition from the outfield to second base extremely well,” Ryman said. “I felt like she would because she did have a lot of experience at second in high school and in travel ball.
“She only had a couple of days to practice at second before we went to play Jacksonville. We had to make sure she was where she was supposed to be. She has a good head for second base, but on this level we had to make sure she knew where she was going and what her responsibilities were.”
Elmore has an understanding of what she can and can’t do on the field. And Ryman thinks that is a key to her success.
“She knows what she is good at and she is always trying to get better at what she is not good at doing,” Ryman said. “She plays to her strengths. She is an alert, aggressive player.”
The lead-off role can be challenging, but Elmore likes to be the one who sets the table for the rest of the team. She leads the team in multi-hit games with 16 and her nine-game hitting streak was the longest this season for the Lady Bisons.
“She takes a lot of pride in that,” Ryman said. “If we are the visiting team she wants to start the game with a hit or she wants to get on base somehow. It is a tough spot, but as intimidating as it may seem to some players there is also the excitement of getting the first shot at a pitcher and setting the tone.
“You want to have a good quality at bat even if you don’t get a hit. That puts an impression in the minds of the rest of the team as to how well you hit the pitcher. She has done it the right way for us. She has handled herself really well. She has played such an important role on our team all year long.”
Neely quickly became a part of the team after transferring in January from Austin Peay. She leads the team in on base percentage (.387), runs batted in (37) and total bases (95). She is second on the team in several categories - hitting (.327) slugging percentage (.556), home runs (9), hits (56) and runs scored (36).
“There were so many things that she had to learn so quickly since she didn’t spend the fall with us,” Ryman said. “One of the biggest things that has helped is that she is all-around the best athlete on our team.
“She handled the transition so well. I can only imagine how difficult it would be to practice and prepare with one team in the fall and two months later be in a new environment.”
Change was the theme of the season for Neely. She had been a shortstop at Austin Peay, but moved to center field to start the season for the Lady Bisons. After 16 games she moved to third base. Against Mercer she filled in for a few innings at shortstop in the final game of the series.
“There was so much change for her in a short period of time,” Ryman said. “That can be frustrating, but she has handled it so well on the field. She came in open-minded from a defensive perspective. She was willing to play wherever we wanted to put her.
“She has let her play do the talking. After a week or so of practice I don’t think there was one girl on our team who could have said she didn’t deserve to be on the field somewhere. The first impression she made was good.”
Neely has developed into a home run threat this season. She is second on the team in multiple-hit games with 15 and second in multiple-RBI games with eight.
“Paige is one of those players who does so much on her own that a lot of people don’t see,” Ryman said. “She comes in and does extra hitting all of the time. You see the effort that she puts in away from practice and from games come through in how she plays, her mentality and how she carries herself on the field.”
Aguirre has overcome a couple of injuries this season. She is 48th in the country in doubles and leads the team with 13, a career high. She is third on the team in hitting with a .318 average. Her 14 strikeouts are the lowest on the team.
“So much of what Gracey does can go unnoticed,” Ryman said. “She doesn’t say a lot. But every time we played someone in the conference she had a knack for getting on base, putting the ball in play and making things happen.
“She is like Caroline Mason was for us. She is going to get a few home runs and get some doubles, but is also going to have a pretty high average. At times that can go unnoticed if you aren’t putting up huge home run numbers.”
Aguirre has batted clean-up for 24 games. LU is 19-5 in those games.
“I am proud of her for battling through injuries that she has dealt with on-and-off throughout the year,” Ryman said, “She really took off the second half of the year.
“For the second year in a row she has had the fewest number of strikeouts on our team. That is pretty impressive to do as a freshman and sophomore to have that type of impact offensively. Her consistency this year has set her apart.”
Sanders has won 17 games, tying her for second in the NCAA era for most victories on the team by a freshman.
“We look at Tanner and opposing coaches look at Tanner and say, ‘Talent, talent, talent’,” Ryman said. “I think that the sky is the limit for her.
“We are continuing to work for her on some mechanical things. She has battled through some injuries that a lot of people wouldn’t know about.”
Sanders and Heather Parker have split the work this season.
“Tanner has the ability to get it done,” Ryman said. “When she is on she is as tough a pitcher as anyone in our conference.
“She has had a very impressive freshman year. Coming in as a freshman and throwing essentially half of our innings is impressive. If she continues to work and tweak the little mechanical things she can be an all-conference pitcher the rest of her career.”
Bell started every game behind the plate and consistently batted fifth in the order. She only struck out 16 times.
“I think any time you are a freshman and start regularly you are going to get noticed,” Ryman said. “I think where you stand out a little bit more is by being in a key position. She was starting every day at catcher and hitting in the middle part of the order so she was going to get noticed.
“Offensively, there are moments you can say Mickey is a really great hitter. There are other moments where she might go 0-for-3. From an average standpoint she probably didn’t it as well as she is capable of doing, but she found a way to stay in the middle part of our lineup and have an impact.”
Ryman expects Bell to put up stronger numbers with each passing season.
“Mickey is very much a player who thinks about the game and thinks about what to do next,” Ryman said. “All of our freshmen have learned lessons. To apply them in the future will be important. We asked a lot of her and we want to ask even more from her.
“She doesn’t strike out a lot. She is very good with two strikes. It is important to have people who can consistently put the ball in play and that is something that she brings. She has a good head on her shoulders. She will continue to get better.”
Thurman finished strong in center field this season. She has balanced the demand of Division I softball with accounting, one of the toughest degrees at Lipscomb. She has posted a 4.0 and was the only member of the A-Sun All-Conference team with a 4.0 grade point average.
"Bree has always been a smart kid," Ryman said. "She has always had very high expectations of herself in every area, especially in her school work.
"Keeping As has always been very important to her. And to come and do it at the college level, and to do at a school like Lipscomb that is very well-known from an academic standpoint, speaks volumes for her, for her work ethic and her discipline in the classroom."