KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – The Lipscomb Lady Bisons softball team packed a lot of emotions along with their gear when they boarded the bus Wednesday afternoon for East Tennessee.
Making their first trip to an NCAA Regional since 2010 they are bringing along with them excitement, purpose, joy, confidence and a little bit of nervousness.
“They want to make the most of this,” Lipscomb softball coach Kristin Ryman said. “They don’t want to go just so they can say they went to regionals. They want to go and win.
“We are approaching this by trying to make sure we are confident and that we are doing the little things right from a preparation standpoint. And when it is game time on Friday I think that we will be confident. I want them to go out there, play their game and have fun.”
Thursday they will get a chance to work out at Sherri Parker Lee Stadium in preparation for the first game of the Knoxville Regional. The Lady Bisons, 39-13, will face Virginia Tech, 35-21, at 2:30 p.m. Friday. Tennessee, the host and the No. 10 seed nationally with a 42-10 record, plays Charleston Southern, 27-31-1, at 5 p.m.
“We are in a really good place right now,” Ryman said. “I think we are excited, focused and ready to go.
“We have had three practices that give me a good indication that we are prepared and ready to go and do our thing.”
The Lady Bisons, an at-large selection for the tournament, know they have been given a second chance after losing two games and being eliminated from the Atlantic Sun Tournament. Ryman sees a renewed sense of purpose in the team.
“Any time we are hitting in practice, whether it has been off the tee, a toss or a live pitcher I have been looking for a good approach from each hitter,” Ryman said. “Are we focused? Are we getting our hands inside of the ball? Are we hitting through the ball and really finishing and following through? Those are the big picture things.
“Obviously, every player has a couple of little things we have to watch for. But overall, we are making sure we are attacking good pitches and that mentally we are where we need to be. That is going to help us more than the physical right now.”
Pitching is a focal point of every team, but the biggest concern for the Lady Bisons heading into regional play is hitting. The losses of Gracey Aguirre after 24 games and Kelsey Cartwright prior to the A-Sun Tournament have not helped as both were .300-plus hitters.
“Everybody knows they are both all-conference players,” Ryman said. “What is cool is our team is not made up of just one person.
“We are in a situation where I feel like we have one of the deeper teams we have ever had. And there are going to be some players who will have opportunities this weekend who maybe haven’t had a lot of opportunities this season.”
Several players have made their first starts this season. Dee Baddley made the first starts of her career with two games in center field. Jordan Abell made her first career starts at second base. Madison Wray also had her first career starts, playing first in one game and third in another. Becca Dean made a start in the outfield this year as well. Kasey Gibson is also an option.
“As long as they stay confident, go up and stay composed and in the moment those players are going to be fine,” Ryman said. “They can’t be like deer in headlights. It is a big stage, but I think we can handle it.
“We expect a lot out of them in practice. I think that prepares you for moments like these. When you are being pushed every day in practice, and going up against who they have been going up against all season long, you are prepared for moments like this.”
Ryman has stressed to her team all season not to worry about the name on an opponent’s uniform. That is a philosophy that takes on even more importance this weekend.
“At this point I don’t think we need to get wrapped up in the other teams and what they are going to do,” Ryman said. “They are all good teams. If they weren’t they wouldn’t be playing at this point. The best plan for us is to focus on what we do best and what our weaknesses are.
“We truly believe we are in a position, and in a regional, where we can definitely compete. We have seen some good things. I think we are prepared.”