NASHVILLE, Tenn. – It won’t be the last time Lipscomb five seniors will play on Draper Diamond at Smith Stadium, but it will be their last weekend series and last Atlantic Sun series on their home turf.
In an unusual conference schedule the Lipscomb softball team will face Florida Gulf Coast this weekend. It is the third straight home conference series for the Lady Bisons. The final three conference series will be played on the road.
Game time Saturday for a doubleheader is 1 p.m. This will also be “Senior Day” as outfielder Dee Baddley, outfielder-infielder Brittany Elmore, pitcher Tanner Sanders, infielder Baylee Williams and pitcher Kelly Young will be honored.
Baddley, Elmore and Sanders all came to Lipscomb out of high school and were part of the 2014 team that went to the NCAA Tournament in Knoxville. Williams and Young transferred to Lipscomb for the 2015 season. Williams was a junior college All-America at Chattanooga State. Young made the move to Lipscomb after two seasons on the pitching staff at Arkansas.
While there are still games to play in their careers, Lipscomb coach Kristin Ryman was prompted to assign one word to describe each one of them.
Passion for the game
Ryman didn’t have to think very long to assign a one word description of Baddley.
“Dee is passionate,” Ryman said. “She is that player from day one who has an infectious personality on and off of the field.
“She has continued to grow and has become a big leader for us even though she is not always a starter and not always in the limelight.”
Baddley has been elevated to a starting role this season after a player was injured.
“Everyone is excited when she gets chances to play,” Ryman said. “When your teammates are on Cloud Nine because you are getting to play that says a lot about you. That stands out the most for me about Dee.
“She has continued to grow and become a big leader for us. You don’t see too many players at this level who possess the qualities as a human being to be a leader and not always be a starter. There are very few players who can handle that in a mature kind of way and under the big picture.”
Ryman refers to Baddley as the “ultimate” teammate.
“Dee brings so much practice every day whether it is practice or during pregame and games. She has been that spark. She is the player everybody roots for.
“I remember in the NCAA Regionals two years ago we had a couple of key players in Kelsey Cartwright and Gracey Aguirre went down with injuries. It could have completely changed the end of our season.”
Baddley proved up to the task of filling in a big stage.
“We had to make some lineup adjustments,” Ryman said. “She played in the conference tournament in the first starts of her career.
“I remember us saying we have a couple of options, but we felt like Dee was the steadiest defensively. She got the first hit in regionals and you saw the entire dugout come alive. When you strip everything down, if you can say your teammates are genuinely excited about your success that says a lot about her.”
Baddley is also active with the team away from the field. She often leads team devotionals and was a leader when the softball team served on a mission trip to Mexico.
“She has helped to transform the culture of our program off the field,” Ryman said. “That is another thing that speaks volumes for her.”
A reliable Elmore
Each time Elmore steals a base she adds to her conference all-time stolen base record. Ryman could have used the word speed to describe Elmore, but that was too easy and too cliché.
“Brittany is reliable,” Ryman said. “Brittany has been that player who from day one we knew had the tools to be in our lineup right away.”
Elmore has started all four years for Lipscomb and has held the lead-off spot in the batting order since she has been here. She had moved from center field to second base for the past 11 games due an injury to a player.
Ryman often compares Elmore to Lauren Dortwegt who was known for her speed and was also a mainstay through her career at the top of the batting order.
“Lauren was that super-speed, top of the lineup, centerfielder for four years as a starter,” Ryman said. “Two years after Lauren graduated we were looking to replace her.
“I kept watching Brittany,” Ryman said. “I knew she was interested in us. It was kind of like there were so many good things about her, but she hadn’t put everything together yet. The more I watched her I saw her finally start putting all the tools together. She kept getting better and better as she got older.”
Elmore always played at a higher level with her summer league teams. Ryman things that helped her in developing her skills.
“I remember she was the scrawniest little player out there,” Ryman said. “But there was something about her as she started coming into own.
“I remember thinking this kid is versatile defensively. She can play second base and she could be a really good outfielder with her speed and instinctive way of playing.”
She is in the top 15 in the Atlantic Sun in hitting this season and has hit .346 so far for her career.
Elmore has been a unique combination of being both a slapper and a “swing away” hitter.
“Brittany is a very mechanical hitter,” Ryman said. “At times that has paid off for her. She has continued to get better mechanically. Because she was very mechanical at a young age she doesn’t have to think about it when she is at the plate.”
Elmore has lived up to all of Rymans’ expectations.
“Brittany has been reliable on the field,” Ryman said. “She is known as the best base stealer we have ever had and the best in the conference as well. But it goes a lot deeper than her being a base stealer.
“Defensively, she has played right field, second base and center field and played them all well. Offensively, she has filled the role as the No. 1 hitter and has always hit for a high average. Her teammates know she is going to be in the lineup every day.”
Sanders has been fearless
Sanders has been in the circle against some of the toughest opponents Lipscomb has faced – Tennessee, Iowa, Mississippi State, Virginia Tech and Baylor among others. She beat Baylor 1-0 on Feb. 15, 2014 in one of the most important victories in the history of the program.
“She has taken her fearlessness to a different level every season because she has more tools to work with,” Ryman said. “Our team has fed a lot off of her fearlessness. In the Baylor game our players fed off of that.”
“We threw here into the fire early on. I think that helped her as she continued to grow as a pitcher.”
She received a high level of interest from schools like Mississippi State and USC Upstate. She was playing travel ball for a team based in North Alabama which was nearer to her home in Flintville, Tennessee.
“I remember Tanner being a skinny player in high school,” Ryman said. “We were able to get her to come to one of our camps. It was indoors. She was throwing gas. She was night-and-day better than the other girls throwing beside her.
“There is something to be said about recruiting someone with a lot of speed. We also knew there was so much growth for her as a pitcher. The speed component was there but for us it was how much further can we take her? How much more was she going to grow?”
Lexi Myers was the pitching coach at the time. Both she and Ryman were excited when Sanders signed.
“From day one she just was fearless,” Ryman said. “Her mechanics weren’t always the best early on, but she was fearless when she stepped in the circle.
“It didn’t matter if her mechanics were the best or not. I remember thinking there was a lot of work to do there. She was excited about going after the batters on the other team. We threw her into the fire early on. She threw against a lot of high level competition early in her career.”
Sanders loved the camp and her visit to Lipscomb, but her family lives in Flintville, Tennessee and the opportunity to play close to home was also important.
“She has been away from home, but close enough where she could go home,” Ryman said. “Off the field she is happy go lucky. We call her the team `diva’. We all laugh about that.
“She became engaged the Christmas of her junior year and plans to get married shortly after this season is over. A lot of people were wondering where her focus was going to be and that was a natural question. She is about to start real life. I am a big believer in family coming first. It has been so rewarding seeing a player like her stay so motivated and attack her senior year the way she has.”
She and Young shared pitching responsibilities last season. They were an effective tag team.
“People would ask me who our No. 1 pitcher was and I would tell them we don’t really have a No. 1,” Ryman said. “We had a 1-A and a 1-B but that could change from one day to the next.
“It allowed both of them to grow and continue to push each other. We have seen her growth every year. We asked her to change some things. She is night-and-day from where she started. I credit Lexi and Megan Smith with doing great things with her.”
A steady Williams
Williams was a junior college All-American at Chattanooga State, something many people may not know about her. She quietly goes about her business and has flown under the radar for most of her career at Lipscomb despite putting up solid numbers at the plate and on defense.
“Once you transfer you start your journey over again,” Ryman said. “Transferring from a junior college is different than a four-year college. You are essentially a freshman again, but yet you are a junior.
“She had a great junior college career. But it took Baylee some time to find her place here. She jumped into a new team and a new environment.
“She went from being a sophomore at the junior college level to essentially being a freshman even though she was a junior. Most people don’t realize how much of an adjustment that can be.”
At 5-foot-3 she is short in stature and is often overlooked by other teams. Defensively, in 2015, she made only two errors. Offensively, she led Lipscomb in runs batted in with 35. Still, many pitchers overlook her.
“She doesn’t strike out very often,” Ryman said. “She is going to make things happen by putting the ball in play.
“When Baylee gets into a groove offensively she is tough to stop. When she steps to the plate you know she is going to make something happen.”
She has moved to shortstop after playing 23 games at second this season.
“Baylee is not that flashy of a player,” Ryman said. “She has been so steady for us. She stepped in to a situation where we needed a middle infielder. She is not the player hitting home runs every game. She is not the player who plays a position that will get the most notoriety.
“She is not the loudest person on our team. She is not the person who is going to be in the center of the huddle talking. She has been self-less. She leads in her own way. She just goes about her business.”
Ryman urged Williams to have a presence in the huddle and to be more vocal when needed.
“This season she has been the veteran in an infield that featured two freshmen and two sophomores before Khayla Green was injured,” Ryman said. “She found a way to lead in her own way. You know, deep down, she is going to get the job done.”
Ryman has enjoyed coaching Williams and watching her blossom as a person.
“Baylee is absolutely hilarious,” Ryman said. “She doesn’t say a whole lot, but she those little one liners that catch you off guard and make everyone laugh.
“You need that on a team. You don’t need everyone to be a loud personality. She has been a joy to coach.”
A determined Young
“When I think of Kelly the first thing that comes to mind is how determined she is,” Ryman said. “It is not just as a person, but as a player on the field.
“Watching her gain so much confidence as a pitcher here has been one of the most rewarding things in my coaching career.”
Young had been recruited by the Lipscomb coaching staff out of high school, but she chose the opportunity to play in the Southeastern Conference. After two years she decided it was time to make a change and Ryman was happy to take Young’s phone call.
But it was obvious Young was going to need some work in the fall both physically and mentally in order to be ready to pitch for the Lady Bisons.
“She liked some of the things at Arkansas, but there were things that were lacking and she needed to walk away,” Ryman said. “She knew deep down she wanted more. Her growth as a player was not there at Arkansas and she was longing for that. She was willing to walk away from Arkansas because she realized something was lacking in her growth as a softball player.
Young’s personal pitching coach, Rose Kalisak, also coached former Lipscomb pitchers Whitney Kiihnl and Christen Campbell.
“Coach K’s philosophy of pitching matches ours so that has been a great relationship for us to have,” Ryman said. “There were so many things Kelly liked in her initial visit to Lipscomb when we recruited her out of high school. There was something tugging at her at the time about wanting a big school environment.”
Ryman knew what Young was capable of but there was much work to be done in the fall of 2014.
“We had a lot of work to do to rebuild her confidence,” Ryman said. “The first fall she was with us we realized how much ability and potential she had.
“It was a roller coaster ride that fall getting her on the right track. She had to get back to trusting her pitches. She was willing to take a chance and come here. She was determined to get better.”
Ryman gives the lion’s share of the credit to Lipscomb pitching Coach Megan Rhodes Smith for taking Young to the next level.
“Megan had to rebuild her and she developed into an all-conference pitcher,” Ryman said. “I know Young would also give Megan the credit. Kelly fought through so much.”
“Kelly’s presence here has also helped elevate Tanner’s game. It is not a negative competition. They are each other’s biggest fan. They have fed off of each other in a positive way. It has been nice over the last couple of years not to have to rely on only one pitcher.”
Off the field Young has also transformed in many ways. During the Easter weekend she was baptized.
“Kelly has always been a great person,” Ryman said. “She showed great maturity from the first day she came here.
“We knew she was going to develop into a leader for our team. She had grown so much in her spiritual life. That to me is the ultimate thing as a coach when you see somebody who has fought through so much grow into who they want to be. She has been surround be some great people here and some great influences. She continues to want more on and off of the field.”