FORT MYERS, Fla. – Pitching is at the core of the success for most teams in college softball and Lipscomb coach Kristin Ryman thinks she has two of the best in juniors Kelly Young and Tanner Sanders.
The Lady Bisons success in the Atlantic Sun Tournament will be heavily on the shoulders of the duo.
“One of the things that makes us stand out from the rest of teams in the tournament is our pitching,” Ryman said. “There is some good pitching in the tournament but not too many teams have the one-two punch that we do.”
Young, 16-13, was a First Team All-Conference selection. Sanders, 13-10, was a Second Team pick.
“That speaks tremendously to the work they have put in,” Ryman said. “It speaks tremendously of Megan (Rhodes Smith) and what she has done with them in the growth they have made from the fall through the spring.
“They are better pitchers right now than they were at the beginning of the season. We don’t have one workhorse that we have depended on to carry us through the season. We have two with the numbers to be all conference and we are the only team that had two pitchers make it.”
Overall in the A-Sun Young is fourth in earned run average (2.88), tied for second in opposing batting average (.225), first in strike outs (204) and first in batters struck out looking (54).
In A-Sun games only Young is fourth in ERA (2.68), second in opposing batting average (.198), first in strike outs (92) and first in batters struck out looking (21).
Sanders overall is fifth in ERA (2.92), tied for second in opposing batting average (.225), third in strike outs (126) and third in batters struck out looking (39).
In A-Sun games only Sanders is second in ERA (1,86), third in opposing batting average (.212), third in strike outs (48) and tied for fourth in batters struck out looking (13).
“They have both been at or near the top all year long,” Ryman said. “Megan is so smart in the way she works with them.
“There have been moments this year when mentally we weren’t in a great place. We had given up some untimely hits. We had moments we had to overcome. And I credit Megan and our two girls who have listened to what she has said.”
Smith is not at the tournament due to delivering her second baby. She had not been able to travel with the team during the latter stages of her pregnancy. Ivy Renfroe, a volunteer coach, stepped in to fill the void.
“Ivy has been here the whole year with the team and is with us most every day in practice,” Ryman said. “She has been able to step in this time of the year and work with them and seamlessly call pitches and communicate with them. It has been a true blessing to have her with us.”
The Lady Bisons, 29-23, earned a first round bye as the No. 2 seed. They will face Stetson at 9 a.m. CT Thursday morning. The game can be viewed live on ESPN3.
Stetson, the No. 6 seed, took an early lead and held on for a 4-3 win over No. 3-seeded Kennesaw State
“We feel good about where we are,” Ryman said. “It has been really cool to see the growth of this team. We are playing our best softball right now.”
The Lady Bisons were 1-2 in a home series with Stetson. The Lady Bisons split a doubleheader March 21 at Draper Diamond at Smith Stadium winning 10-3 and losing 4-0. Stetson closed the series March 22 with a 6-3 decision.
The last time the two teams met in the conference tournament was in 2014. Stetson won 2-0.
Jazz Vasquez, who still leads the team in hitting, is sidelined. In addition to Vasquez three other Stetson players are batting above .300 – Kayla Drury, Jessica Griffin and Demi Meza. Four players had multiple hits for Stetson against Kennesaw State. The Hatters connected for 10 hits.
“Stetson’s lineup is different, but not drastically different,” Ryman said. “They have shuffled some people around.
“Jazz Vasquez is a key loss for them. She was leading the team in batting average when they played us. She could have easily been on the all-conference team as an outfielder.”
Chelsea Hostetler, 18-8 with the win over Kennesaw State, is expected to return to the circle against the Lady Bisons. She gave up two earned runs on eight hits. Stetson was credited with five errors.
Another pitching possibility is Courtney Brandt who is 10-10 with a 4.31 earned run average.
Early wake-up call: The Lady Bisons watched the game between Stetson and Kennesaw State. They ate dinner together after the game and then returned to the hotel for an early curfew.
“We haven’t had this early a wake-up call since earlier in the season,” Ryman said. “But it is not unknown territory for us. We have had 10 a.m., 8 a.m. and 9 a.m. games this season. With the adrenalin and excitement the tournament brings we are not worried at this point.”
Final exam: The Lady Bisons have played in the championship game of the A-Sun Tournament three of the last five seasons.
No worries at No. 6: When playing in the A-Sun Tournament as the No. 6 seed Stetson has won its opening game three straight times.
Going for gold: When Caitlin Plocheck was packing up items in her dorm room at the end of the semester she mistakenly sent her No. 7 gold game jersey to her home near Houston.
At first Plocheck thought she had left it at the team hotel in Spartanburg, South Carolina when the Lady Bisons played USC Upstate. When no jersey could be found, she was forced to play the series last Thursday and Friday at Florida Gulf Coast wearing No. 14.
Plocheck’s father was present for Wednesday’s practice at FGCU and he returned the jersey to her.