NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The members of the Lipscomb softball team won’t soon forget the 2013 season.
There were hills and valleys both on and off of the field. But through it all the Purple and Gold rallied and finished the season as one of the hottest teams in the Atlantic Sun Conference, winning 10 of their last 11 regular season conference games.
They finished 35-24 overall, marking the fifth straight season with more than 30 wins under coach Kristin Ryman who also broke the school’s all-time victory mark for softball as a head coach. The 18 conference wins tied regular season champion North Florida. But LU’s conference winning percentage placed them fourth.
The one thing the players and coaches will carry into their preparations for the 2014 season is the bitter taste of the way this season ended. Three dramatic wins, including two in extra innings, placed the Lady Bisons in the championship game in the A-Sun Tournament on Draper Diamond, their home field. LU needed only one win over USC Upstate to earn their second berth in the NCAA Tournament. But it was not to be as the Lady Bisons fell 4-1 in game one and 7-5 in game two.
“It is the old debate of would you rather get run-ruled in that setting or lose under the circumstances that we did,” Ryman said. ‘There are probably pros and cons to each, but I think that going down fighting is better than going down not fighting.
“It was so close that everybody could taste it. I hope and feel like our players are leaving town and going home for the summer with that feeling. No one wants to talk about, but none of us want to feel like this again. None of us want to again feel what is like to be so close to reaching that goal and doing what we had set out to do all year long and coming up short.”
The question for each player to consider during the summer is, “how do you avoid it happening again?”
“I really feel like the motivation is going to be there this summer to really get after it and not do this again next year,” Ryman said. “But the conference keeps getting better. It is not going to get any easier.”
A-Sun softball is at its highest level in terms of overall talent. And with so much parity in the conference it is not always who has the best team that influences wins and losses.
“Down the stretch we had some clutch moments with key hits and key pitches from our kids,” Ryman said, “They were right on cue. So much of this is timing.
“Everybody is talented and we know that. It is not always the most talented team that wins games. It is the team that plays the best that day under whatever the circumstances might be.”
Ryman think victories are going to go to the team that is the toughest mentally.
“If we come back this fall having taken some steps forward physically then we can jumpstart our work on the mentality of the game,” Ryman said.
“We will go to work to make sure we are handling pressure well.
“The mental game is one of those areas that you are either going to buy into or you are not. I think we are also going to continue to push players physically and get the most out of them. We are going to find out how important winning is for them.”
This past season center fielder Bree Thurman was the lone senior. For 2014 there will be a heavy veteran presence with Kelsey Cartwright, Bridgette
Begle, Kristen Sturdivant, Haley Elliott, Rena’ Cothron, Ashley Anderson and Heather Parker.
“That group should use how close we were to the championship this season as motivation,” Ryman said. “Even after the struggles we went through this year we were playing the best when it mattered the most.”
In Ryman’s viewpoint the big thing for her players to consider is, “Can they handle the pressure?”
“I would hope that moments like the championship games can prove to everybody how vital the mental game and being able to perform under pressure are,” Ryman said. “Everybody wants to say, `I am tough’, but when they happen can you really handle moments like that? I am kind of excited to work on that aspect of the game even more.
“If we are going to get beat I would rather get beat physically than mentally. “There are a lot of lessons to be learned from this season as players, coaches, as a group and as family. There are things we don’t want to happen again in future years. There are things that were good that we want to continue to build off of next season. We have the potential to have a really special group again.”