NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Lipscomb Lady Bisons played the 16th toughest non-conference softball schedule in NCAA Division I and the 38th toughest overall this season and at times it was painful.
But a few days removed from a frustrating finish as runner-up in the Atlantic Sun Conference Tournament Lipscomb coach Kristin Ryman admits she is proud of the way her team ended the season. They rode a seven-game winning streak into the A-Sun Tournament as the No. 2 seed and finished with a 31-25 record.
“If you just look at scores in our two losses in the tournament to USC Upstate you are not going to see the whole picture,” Ryman said. “That may be the part that is the most disappointing.
“But at the same time we know how we played. While we are disappointed in the mistakes we made at the end of both of those games we had a chance. We gave ourselves an opportunity. “
In addition to the two losses, the Lady Bisons shut out Stetson twice in the tournament.
“I feel pretty good about the way we finished,” Ryman said. “We did a lot of really good things.
“Would we love to still be playing? Absolutely. That is the goal every year to go to the NCAA Tournament.”
It marked the seventh year in a row the Lady Bisons have reached 30 or more wins overall in a season. Ryman admits at some points early in the season during that rugged preconference schedule she wondered if 30 wins would be attainable.
“Based on the way we started this year there were a lot of concerns from everyone in our program, including me,” Ryman said. “But as we worked through the year I was really proud of how we handled things down the stretch and the effort that we saw. That is the reason we went into the tournament as the No. 2 seed.
“When we look back at the year as a whole we have established we are one of the top teams in the A-Sun. Now we have to work to win the tournament or to get another at large bid like we did in 2014. There is a lot of motivation with our players and coaches right now.”
2016 schedule will challenge
The schedule for 2016 is incomplete. While it may not be as difficult as this year’s Ryman has no plans to take it easy on her players.
“Overall, it will be tough again,” Ryman said. “I don’t know if it will be as tough as this year’s schedule was. We never have wanted to have a cupcake schedule and rack up 40 wins every year. We have to find a good balance.
“Some of that depends on what type of tournament schedules we get. We don’t know all of the teams we will play in tournaments. As coaches we sit back and look at this year and we are still in the top 60 in the country in the RPI.”
Monday and Tuesday Ryman held individual meetings with her players to discuss what happened this season and what she expects for 2016. Ryman said good-bye to seniors Jordan Abell, Gracey Aguirre, Laura Dukes, Paige Neely and Brianne Welch. Neely played shortstop. Welch started in left and Aguirre was in right. Dukes, who lost a good portion of her season to an injury, was the starting catcher when she was healthy.
“I am really proud of our seniors,” Ryman said. “For people who don’t know the internal workings of our team they would necessarily notice how much growth the team had this year. That part is very rewarding.
“We saw players who started the year struggling finally click and figure it out and finish the year the way we know they are capable of doing. Now, when you look at their overall numbers, they are not where they want to be or where we want them to be. But that is the sometime slow process of developing players and giving them the opportunity to be better in the future.”
Ryman will welcome seven freshmen this fall. Mandy Jordan, a 5-foot-10 right-handed pitcher from Camden, Alabama; will bolster what is already a solid pitching staff. Juniors Kelly Young (First Team) and Tanner Sanders (Second Team) made the A-Sun All-Conference Team. Both pitchers earned A-Sun All-Tournament honors. No other team placed two pitchers on either team.
“We feel really good about our pitching for next year,” Ryman said. “Kelly and Tanner did a tremendous job down the stretch. When we got into the conference schedule I saw a different level of confidence in those two and that made a major difference in the team.
“Mandy is going to come in and really make a statement as a freshman. She is a competitor in the circle. One of my favorite qualities about her is she is going to fight for her team. She is going to fight for every out. She is a player her teammates are really going to love playing behind.”
Ryman is also expecting junior McCarley Thomas to be in the mix. Caitlin Plocheck, who primarily played first base this season, could also get more work in the circle. Rounding out the pitching staff is Taylor Neuhart who was sidelined this season due to an injury.
“We know our freshmen are talented,” Ryman said. “We are excited about what they are going to bring to the table and the challenges they are going to bring to our returners.
“We have a better idea as coaches what we need to address early on in the fall. The freshmen are going to bring a lot of energy. We just need to recognize the personality of the team off of the field and make sure we have a dynamic personality on the field.”
Latest RPI: The Lady Bisons climbed to 57th in this week’s NCAA RPI.
Four more teams from the A-Sun are in the top 100. USC Upstate is ranked 38th. North Florida is 81st and Kennesaw State is close behind in 83rd. Stetson is 98th.
National numbers: As a team the Lady Bisons are 46th this week with a .968 fielding percentage.
They are ranked 36th in stolen bases per game with an average of 1.50.
Neely is rated 49th with an average of .32 doubles per game.
Abby Fenichel is 15th in the hit by pitch category, an average of .36 per game.
Brittany Elmore remains in the top 10 in stolen bases per game. She is seventh this week with an average of .77 per game.
Young is 17th nationally in shutouts with eight. She is 54th in strikeouts per seven innings with 7.7.
Records update: Elmore finished the season with 43 stolen bases, shattering her own team season high of 36 in 2013.
Her season total is the fifth best in A-Sun history. It is highest season total in the A-Sun since Campbell’s Jessica Huffman stole 46 in 2007.
Elmore moves into second place on the career records ladder in the A-Sun with 105 thefts. She needs 11 to tie Huffman, the all-time leader with 116.