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Softball's hot hitting warmed cool night at Draper Diamond

Saturday, February 08, 2014
by Mark McGee

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The first two games of the Music City Classic had the Lipscomb Lady Bisons singing a happy tune.

The Lady Bisons opened the softball season Saturday afternoon at a chilled Draper Diamond at Smith Stadium with an 11-7 win over Miami-Ohio. They closed out the day with a 10-2 win over Tennessee State that was called in the sixth inning due to the run-rule.

The Music City Classic ends Sunday. The Lady Bisons will face Virginia Tech at noon followed by Butler at 2:30.

Despite temperatures in the high 30s the Lady Bisons were hot at the plate hitting three home runs, and four doubles and collecting 22 hits overall.

In game one Lipscomb’s Paige Neely slammed the first pitch she faced over the left center field wall.

The last time she stood at home plate at Draper Diamond with a bat in her hand in a game, it was in the final inning of the Atlantic Sun Championship game against USC Upstate last season. She fell short of a game-winning homer in that game by about an inch or two. But this time around she cleared the fence to score the first two runs of the season.

“Paige picked up where she left off last year,” Lipscomb coach Kristin Ryman said. “How ironic. She hits the first pitch out after coming so close at the end last year. That is a neat story line.

“Paige really ignited us in the first game. Brittany Elmore gets the walk to lead off and immediately we scored. Paige is not the typical No. 2 hitter. But we want pitchers to face Brittany, Paige and Kelsey Cartwright as many times as possible in a game. Using her there makes our offense that much tougher. We won’t be quite as predictable offensively.”

Rena’ Cothron, making her college debut as a catcher after spending the previous three seasons in the infield, added a two-run homer of her own in the second inning. She also threw out one runner. 

“Catching is not completely foreign to her,” Ryman said. “She caught in high school.

“Rena’ likes to throw. She has been catching all fall, but it was good for her to get two official games under her belt. She is going to get better and better.”

The Lady Bisons, playing as the visitor, scored four runs in the top of the seventh and led 11-3. In the bottom of the seventh Miami challenged with four runs on two hits, two Lipscomb errors and a wild pitch.

Tanner Sanders went six innings for the win, scattering nine hits. Only five of the seven runs she allowed were earned. Heather Parker pitched the final inning to close out the victory.

Parker came back to go the distance in game two. She gave up six hits and two runs, one on a solo home run by Jayna Hanawahine in the third inning. She struck out seven batters and walked three.

“Pitching looked good in spots and then looked rough in spots,” Ryman said. “On days like that you have to hit.  I think our hitting picked it up when our pitching wasn’t quite as sharp.”

Kristen Sturdivant started off the scoring for the Lady Bisons against Tennessee State with a solo home run to left field in the second inning that landed in the parking lot of the Ezell Center.

After not scoring in the first inning, the Lady Bisons added one run in the second, one in the third, one in the fourth, five in the fifth and two in the sixth as they combined for 15 hits.

Gracey Aguirre led the Lady Bisons against Tennessee State with four hits, including two doubles. Neely added three singles.

Aguirre batted clean-up in the Miami-Ohio game but did not get a hit. She moved to fifth in game two with Sturdivant taking over the No. 4 spot.

“In game one Gracey was struggling to see the ball a little bit,” Ryman said. “She knew it. We knew it. In game two we flipped Gracey and Kristen in the lineup. Kristen was seeing the ball well and making good contact. We wanted to take some pressure off of Gracey.

“The next thing we know Gracey goes four-for-four in game two. She was lining the ball all over the field. It was good to see her bounce back after a game where she was swinging and missing more than she usually does. She ignited us at certain times with key hits when we needed them.”

Freshman Mimi Cartwright made her collegiate debut at second base. She drove in a combined five runs, three against Tennessee State, and added two hits and two runs.

“Mimi is going to put the ball in play,” Ryman said. “We don’t anticipate her to be a high strike out kid and that is important.

“She may not hit a ton of home runs, but she has pop in her bat. She can drive the ball in the gaps as well as anybody.”

Overall, Ryman was pleased with the efforts of her team in the first games of the season, especially since the winter weather prevented them from doing very much preseason work outside.

“I was really proud of the way we hit the ball,” Ryman said. “We had a high number of strikeouts in the TSU game, more than I would have liked. But we also had a high number of hits. I can handle some strikeouts if we are hitting the ball like that.

“I thought at times defensively we got a little bit sloppy, especially in the seventh inning of the Miami game. Every single time we step on the field we are getting experience. We have a couple of new ones on defense. We have to continue to learn about each other and make those plays defensively.”

The Lady Bisons will face two teams with different overall approaches in Virginia Tech and Butler.

“Virginia Tech is the toughest team we will face in this tournament,” Ryman said. “We won’t have the luxury to have a part of our game that is off.  Virginia Tech has speed and power and they pitch well.  It will be a fun challenge.

“Butler is a scrappy team. They are athletic. They find ways to stay in games. They do a lot of the little things right. They are very fundamentally sound. We have a lot of respect for how they play the game.”