(This is the first in a three-part series reviewing the 2016 softball season and looking ahead to 2017. The first story deals with pitching followed by the infield and then the outfield.)
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Home plate has been dusted for the last time. Uniforms have been turned in. The bats have been sacked. Exit interviews with players have been completed.
The 2016 softball season is over and it is not one that generated many great memories for the Lipscomb Lady Bisons. Untimely injuries, the inconsistencies of youth and an extremely competitive Atlantic Sun Conference all contributed to an 8-10 conference record, 26-29 overall, and two losses in the conference tournament.
The best way to respond to such a season is to spend the offseason working on ways to make 2017 better. That is exactly what head coach Kristin Ryman and assistant coaches Megan Rhodes Smith and J.J. Dillingham and graduate manager Laura Dukes have been doing.
One of the biggest areas of concern is the loss of senior pitchers Kelly Young and Tanner Sanders. The two combined for 42 starts and 321.1 innings pitched. Young led the Atlantic Sun in strikeouts with 220. Sanders was third overall with 127.
Mandy Jordan is entering her sophomore year after making 14 appearances, 11 as a starter, in 2016 for a 3-2 record. Senior McCarley Thomas returns. She made four appearances, two as a starter and was 1-0. Senior Taylor Neuhart has been sidelined with an injury and surgery to make repairs.
“Losing your top two pitchers in one year, and losing two pitchers of their caliber in one year, would be a lot for any team,” Ryman said. “That is big. Pitching is something that will need to be addressed.”
Jordan struck out 46 batters in 38.2 innings. Ryman and Smith would have liked to have seen Jordan in the circle more often, but circumstances weren’t favorable to that plan.
“We feel very good about Mandy,” Ryman said. “She didn’t get quite as many innings as we were anticipating. Some of that was the nature of our season, and having experienced pitchers like Kelly and Tanner in front of her. Some of it was her having to mature as a pitcher at this level, and what was needed out of her to be successful at this level.
“This past season was a huge learning experience for her. The best, by far, is still to come from her.”
Megan Gray is an incoming freshman. Ryman expects Gray to make an immediate impact as a pitcher.
“Megan moves the ball well with good speed,” Ryman said. “She has a good future ahead of her.
“With Mandy and Megan we will have a very good one-two punch. It will just be a very young one-two punch.”
Despite an injury early in the season, Thomas made great strides in the circle.
“McCarley is going to have to stay healthy and be in the best condition she can be in,” Ryman said. “If she has a great summer and a great fall and goes into the season healthy I think we can see some big things out of her.”
Junior Caitlin Plocheck, who primarily has played first base for Lipscomb, also is a pitcher. Chloe Yeager, a freshman, is a first baseman and pitcher just like Plocheck.
“I am intrigued to see how Chloe’s fall goes,” Ryman said. “She is not a huge speed pitcher, but she moves the ball well.
“We have seen her do some really good things. She may be known more as a hitter than a pitcher early in her career like Plocheck.”