FORT MYERS, Fla. – It was a day that started with hope as bright as the southern Florida sun.
But in a just a few hours hope turned to despair as the Lipscomb Lady Bisons lost 9-1 to top-seeded USC Upstate and ended their season as the Atlantic Sun Tournament runner-up Saturday afternoon at the FGCU Softball Complex.
The game ended in the sixth inning due to the run-rule as the Lady Bisons committed three errors and allowed the deciding run to score on a passed ball. If the Lady Bisons, the No. 2 seed, had prevailed in the game there would have been a second game to determine the championship.
There were the tears, frustrations and hugs that usually accompany such a loss. Ryman took the time to praise her five seniors – Gracey Aguirre, Jordan Abell, Laura Dukes, Paige Neely and Brianne Welch – who closed out their collegiate careers.
“For us in the huddle after the game I talked about how we as coaches are so incredibly proud of how much this team has grown over the year,” Lipscomb coach Kristin Ryman said. “I feel like our seniors are the direct reason for that.
“Had they not made the changes and the adjustments they needed to make in their own leadership part of the way through the season we wouldn’t have been in the position we were in this week.”
Ryman stressed the leadership shown by the seniors will pay dividends for them in years to come.
“What the seniors did for us the second half of the year from a leadership standpoint will pay off huge for them,” Ryman said. “They really willed this team to improve when we were at a point where we could have just rolled over.
“They made practices better. They changed our preparation and approach to games. They took it on.”
Starter Tanner Sanders, 13-12, threw 5.2 innings scattering seven hits and walking two. She also struck out two. All eight runs she allowed were unearned.
Kelly Young closed out the game. She gave up one hit and one run.
“I thought Tanner pitched her heart out again,” Ryman said. “It is unfortunate that she threw for the second day in a row. She was keeping them off of the board until we made some really untimely errors.
“For the second day in a row (the Lady Bisons lost Friday to Upstate 4-0 in the seventh on a grand slam) the final score was not indicative of how close the games were. It hurts right now.”
The Lady Bisons jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the first inning on doubles by Neely and Mimi Cartwright. Neely scored on Cartwright’s double down the left field line.
Neither team scored again until the sixth. Three unforced errors provided Upstate with the edge it needed. Shellie Robinson slammed a three-run home to left center as the biggest hit of the inning.
“I thought we were in control most of the game,” Ryman said. “I thought after that first inning that we stalled offensively. The hardest part to swallow is we were in control most of the game.
“For a while we were limiting our strikeouts. Then we started taking some pitches that were a little bit too close.”
Lexi Shubert, 33-5, struck out seven and did not walk a batter. Dukes connected for a single for the third hit of the Lady Bisons.
“It is hard to continue to score with only three hits,” Ryman said. “Shubert is not the kind of pitcher to walk many batters.
“I loved how aggressive we were. We jumped on the board right away. But we got into a little bit of a defensive mode. We were pushing a little too hard to make something happen.”
Upstate, 43-8, wins the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. The Lady Bisons end the season 31-25.
“Upstate is the best hitting team in the conference,” Ryman said. “Playing behind Shubert they are very tough to beat.”
All-Tournament: Aguirre, Young and Sanders were all named to the All-Tournament Team.
Double, double: Neely finished her season with 18 doubles, tying the all-time season high for a Lady Bisons player.
Bad history: Both of USC Upstate's A-Sun Championship titles have come against Lipscomb in the final game.