NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Once, twice, three times a victory.
Three times the Lipscomb Lady Bisons have won in the Atlantic Sun Conference Championship this week.
Three times they have scored the deciding runs in their last at bat.
Friday afternoon at Draper Diamond on the Lipscomb campus the Lady Bisons used a two-out, two-run homer over the left center field fence by Gracey Aguirre for a 4-2 win over No. 2 seeded USC Upstate.
“I have come out more focused in the tournament,” Aguirre said. “I have been visualizing every at bat before the game. And before every at bat I visualize it again.
“It helps me being more confident going up there. I visualized the home run. I whispered the words, `we are going to win today’ before I went up to the plate.”
The Lady Bisons advance to the championship game Saturday at noon. It will be the third time in the past four seasons that the Lady Bisons have been in the title game. In 2010 they won the tournament and in 2011 they lost to Jacksonville.
This will mark the first time the Lady Bisons have headed into the finals undefeated in the double elimination tournament.
“It is a team that never acts like the game is over,” LU coach Kristin Ryman said. “We never feel like a game is out of our reach. We have been so resilient.
“I don’t know if we have been that way all season long. But I feel like they really have a true sense right now that they can do this.”
The Lady Bisons entered the tournament as the No. 4 seed. They beat No. 5-seeded Kennesaw State 5-4 in eight innings in the first round and No. 1 seeded North Florida 3-1 in the eighth inning in the second round.
Brittany Elmore led the Lady Bisons in hitting with three. Haley Elliott connected for two hits. Paige Neely had an RBI-double, her 10th of the year. Mickey Bell also added a double.
Hitting has been getting the headlines for the Purple and Gold in the tournament. But Ryman points to the work of pitchers Tanner Sanders and Heather Parker as being equally as important to the victories.
“What Tanner Sanders and Heather Parker are doing right now is so incredibly crucial,” Ryman said. “Our hitters are getting it done and they are getting a lot of attention and rightfully so.
“But working in combination like they have this week is huge. I can’t say enough about the jobs they are doing.”
The two have split time on the mound in each game. Parker has started once and Sanders has started twice. But in each of the three games the pitcher that relieved has been the winner.
“If they are not pitching well it makes our job that much harder as hitters,” Ryman said. “The fact that they are both pitching well and that they are both ready to start or relieve is huge right now.
“I don’t know if using them like this was necessarily the game plan originally. In tournament play you are going from one game to the next. You are not thinking about a doubleheader or a three-game series. It is all about what it takes to win one game.”
All six teams in the tournament are known for their offensive skills. That has made the timely changing of pitchers even more important.
“They have both done a good job, but there are a lot of good hitters in this league,” Ryman said. “The more they see each pitcher the better chance they have of making adjustments.
“From that standpoint it has worked well to use them together. It has helped us change the momentum a little.”