March 19, 20161234567RHE
USC Upstate0120000360
Win: MCKINNON (14-1) 7.072217
Loss: SANDERS (7-7) 7.063338
CASE (UPST) 412000
HIGGINS (LIP) 312201
March 19, 20161234567RHE
USC Upstate0000300321
Win: YOUNG (6-4) 7.0233510
Loss: SHUBERT (3-2) 1.113132
CASE (UPST) 201010
GIBSON (LIP) 313200
Lipscomb opens A-Sun portion of softball season
Friday, March 18, 2016
By Mark McGee
Lipscomb opens A-Sun portion of softball season

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The competition rises to another level this weekend for the Lipscomb softball team with the start of Atlantic Sun Conference play.

Saturday at 1 p.m. the Lady Bisons will face USC Upstate, the defending conference champion, in a doubleheader at Draper Diamond at Smith Stadium. Sunday the three-game series closes with a 1 p.m. game. This is the A-Sun opening series for both teams. All three games will be available live on ESPN3.

“While everything has been building to this, conference play, I think the most important thing for us right now is to continue that relentless fight, continue executing the game plan and continue to make adjustments we have worked really hard on all season long,” Lipscomb coach Kristin Ryman said. “We have seen so much growth in those things.

“We have to embrace those things as we get into conference play. We can’t abandon those things and fall back into some old habits. We have talked all season about how this team is young in some places and we have to grow.”

Lipscomb, 14-12, has won its last three games, including a doubleheader sweep at Western Kentucky Wednesday night. Upstate is 23-3 and has also won its last three games.

“This is basically the start of a new season,” Ryman said. “We have the opportunity to start this season fresh having experienced a lot of that growth.”

The Spartans have several new additions including pitcher, Holly McKinnon, a junior college transfer with a 13-1 record and a 1.99 earned run average.

“Upstate has had a great preconference season,” Ryman said. “They are always a tough team. They are up near the top of our conference every year for a reason.

“We have several new faces that are doing very well for us and we have some key returners as well. We have to go out and take care of business. Our goal is to fight for seven innings or as long as it takes.”

Scouting Upstate: The last time these two teams met was in the finals of the A-Sun Tournament in Fort Myers, Florida, a 9-1 win for Upstate. Upstate is receiving votes for the Top 25 in two major polls.

The Spartans lead the conference in virtually all offensive categories: batting average (.346), slugging percentage (.572), on base percentage (.416), runs scored (191), hits (240), runs batted in (175), doubles (47), home runs (32) and total bases (397).

“They are pitching well,” Ryman said. “They are hitting well. They have a strong, athletic defense.

“I will say this time around it is a little more difficult to prepare for them because they have so many new players. They return Lexi Schubert as a pitcher. McKinnon has stepped in and done a nice job as a transfer. She is easily one of the best pitchers in the conference.”

The Spartans have three players batting .400 or more led by Karla Beasley at .406. Amy Szymanowski is close behind at .405. She also leads the team in home runs with 10 and runs batted in with 32. Five more players are batting .333 or higher.

“Offensively, they have the power numbers again,” Ryman said. “What is a little unique for them is they have more speed in their lineup. They are going to run the bases well and be aggressive. That makes them more dynamic.”

A-Sun rankings: Lipscomb’s Sarah Higgins is batting .403, fourth best in the conference. She is second in slugging percentage at .792 and third with a .465 on base percentage. She is also third in home runs with seven and total bases with 61.

Higgins leads three Lipscomb batters in the top 15. Brittany Elmore is 12th at .360. Abby Fenichel is 14th at .338.

Kasey Gibson leads in sac bunts with nine. Fenichel has been hit by a pitch eight times, second in the conference.

Tanner Sanders is second with a 1.67 ERA. She is also second in strikeouts with 78 and first in batters struck out looking with 27. She is second in innings pitched with 92. She is fifth in starts with 12.

Kelly Young is third in strikeouts with 69 and second in batters struck out looking with 23.

National rankings: Higgins is 30th in NCAA Division I in home runs. Gibson is 12th in sacrifice hits.

Young is 28th in strikeouts per seven innings with 8.8.