NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Coach Kristin Ryman admits there are a few questions surrounding her 2017 softball team, but as the Lipscomb Lady Bisons officially open the season this weekend she is confident about the team she is going to field.
The following is breakdown of the team by position:
There a many pitchers to choose from, but none of them possess very much experience in Division I games.
Sophomore Mandy Jordan pitched 38.2 innings last season. Senior McCarley Thomas threw 7.2 innings. Megan Gray is a freshman. Senior Taylor Neuhart is back on the mound after being sidelined the past two seasons.
“Pitching is a question mark,” Lipscomb coach Kristin Ryman said. “I don’t mean that as a negative at all. It is just an unknown.
“We see in practice what they are capable of doing. The biggest key once we get into games is playing to our pitcher’s strengths.”
Junior Caitlin Plocheck has limited time on the mound and primarily plays first base. Freshman Chloe Yeager is also a position player who can pitch.
“We may pitch by committee more this year,” Ryman said. “I am okay with that if it is going to be the best scenario to win games. We’ve got a large pitching staff and a lot of them have different looks. I think we can throw teams off and put us in a good position to close games.
“We need to figure out quickly, especially this first weekend, how to best manage this staff. I would like for our starters to go as far as they can, but we want to utilize the strengths of the pitching staff as a whole.”
Junior Abby Fenichel handled the bulk of the catching chores in 2016 and is expected to fill the same role this season.
“Abby is coming off a really strong sophomore year,” Ryman said. “She has always led by how she plays. People have always gravitated to her because she is a hard worker. But she is starting to speak up a little bit more this season and having more of a vocal leadership. She is feeling more comfortable leading the charge out there on the field.
“Ability-wise she keeps moving forward. We are going to rely on her heavily to drive in runs. Behind the plate we will rely on her managing her pitching staff. Managing a pitching staff when you have so many pitchers can be complicated.”
Sarah Higgins, who spent most of last season at third base, can also catch if needed.
“We feel very good about what Sarah does behind the plate,” Ryman said. “She has grown up and matured as a catcher.”
Plocheck is projected to return as the starting first baseman. Also working at first are Yeager and redshirt freshman Jenna Pealor.
“Caitlin has battled some health issues,” Ryman said. “She had an extremely good preseason. She knows how to play first base. She has done a good job of not letting things beat her. She continues to fight every day and gives us everything
“She exudes confidence and that is hard to do when things aren’t always going as well as you would like. She is fun to watch play. We have challenged her not only to cut down on her strikeouts, but to work on improving her average. She has shown the power. She could have a dynamite season in the middle of the lineup.”
Pealor has dealt with health issues and Ryman is thrilled to have her back in uniform.
“She been through so much,” Ryman said. “Defensively, we feel like first base is her best shot. She has also been catching some.
“Plocheck has done a great job of taking Jenna and Chloe under her wing and helping them to get better. They are learning how to play as true first basemen at this level. As far as their improvement a lot of the credit goes to Plocheck.”
Offensively, Ryman expects Pealor to be a left-handed hitter with power.
“She is going to be a factor for us, especially on the offensive side,” Ryman said. “That is really gratifying for us as coaches to see how far she has come.”
Yeager has increased her quickness at first base. She also has power potential at the plate.
“Chloe has so much power,” Ryman said. “We have some girls who can hit it a long way. She thinks so much at the plate and that can work against her at times.”
Hannah DeVault, a freshman, is getting the nod at second base to start the season.
“Hannah is a little sparkplug of a player with a tremendous amount of power whether it is her hitting or her arm strength,” Ryman said. “She is not afraid to get dirty. She gets after it defensively.”
Peyton Ward, also a freshman, is the starting shortstop.
“Peyton has done a great job,” Ryman said. “She is one of the most athletic players on the team.
“She plays the position like a veteran. She is so long she covers a lot of ground. She has the arm to make plays.”
At third base Higgins is returning.
“From day one she has always been one of our hardest workers,” Ryman said. “We have worked with her on improving her quickness. She is working smarter this year. She is working with a purpose.
“She is one of our key power hitters in the middle of the lineup. We want to reduce her number of strikeouts. When you can combine a high average hitter with high power numbers you get a situation where you are a hitter no one wants to face. She proved to be that hitter for us last year.”
Mimi Cartwright, a redshirt junior, brings a great deal of quickness at third base and has battled for playing time.
Sophomore Destinee Brewer will be in center field. She will be flanked by senior left fielder Kasey Gibson and Cartwright in right field.
“Destinee got some really good innings in center field last year and that has really helped her confidence,” Ryman said. “We have challenged her this year to be a more consistent defensive player.
“She has the speed to cover a lot of ground out there but it is also about reading the ball and making sure she has the best jump. She has done a good job in practice. Destinee is our energy. She is that spark for us.”
Brewer is expected to move from No. 9 to No. 1 in the batting lineup this season.
“She will most likely lead off,” Ryman said. “The challenge for her as a leadoff is to narrow her focus to get on base. It is all about getting on base.
“There are challenges for her learning to be the leadoff. She was a spark for us at No. 9. We are seeing a player develop into a more complete softball player right before our eyes.”
Gibson has practiced in both left and right in preseason and has the arm strength to play both.
“The best dynamic with Kasey is to have her in left,” Ryman said. “The thing that has excited me so much about Kasey is she has been so steady through preseason. She comes to practice and gives us everything she can every day.”
Also working out in left field is freshman Abby White. She can play multiple outfield positions. She can also play first base as well.
“Abby is such an athletic outfielder,” Ryman said. “She moves well. She tracks the ball well. She has the arm strength to play any of the outfield positions.
“In fall games she got clutch hit after clutch hit. She can swing away or slap.”
In right field Cartwright is expected to be the starter after playing third base and second base in the past.
“This speaks to Mimi’s versatility,” Ryman said. “She will do anything the team needs her to do.
“It has been a learning process for her in the outfield. She has also worked out at third base. We are excited about having her bat back in the lineup. She doesn’t strike out a whole lot. She has a knack of putting the ball in play.”
Sophomore Khayla Green is one of the most versatile players on the team. She played in the infield last season, but could see playing time in the outfield and infield this season.
“Khayla is extremely athletic,” Ryman said. “She does so many things well. She is a true utility player for us.”
The designated hitter position is also open with Cartwright one of the possible candidates for that position.
“Mimi is so versatile,” Ryman said. “We can use her in a variety of ways.
“It looks like she will be more in the outfield. She has a very strong arm. I am looking forward to having her back offensively and defensively.”