Put the Lipscomb Lady Bisons softball team at the top of the “make things happen” category.
Saturday afternoon at Patricia Wilson Field at Stetson University the top-seeded Lady Bisons came through the winner’s bracket to win their first Atlantic Sun Conference Tournament Championship and an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. They beat USC Upstate 11-0 in the title game.
“There is a difference between wanting to do something and being willing to do what it takes,” Lady Bisons coach Kristin Ryman said. “We have a sign in our locker room that says that.
“All year long this team hasn’t been about just wanting to win a championship. There is a big difference in hoping to do something and going out and making something happen.”
Senior first baseman Kellie Sirus, the tournament most valuable player, led the Lady Bisons with three hits, including a home run, and three runs batted in. Sophomore second baseman Courtney Billington, sophomore catcher Mollie Mitchell and sophomore right fielder Caroline Mason each had two hits as the Lady Bisons collected 12 hits. Both Mason and Christen Campbell each had a double.
Sophomore right-hander Whitney Kiihnl held Upstate to only two hits as she raised her record to 31-3. It was the 12 shutout of the season for Kiihnl and the 29th of the season for the Lady Bisons who are 48-11 overall. Upstate ended the season with a 41-15 record.
The Lady Bisons will host an NCAA selection show Sunday night starting at 8 at the Crow’s Nest in Green Hills. The show will be seen on ESPNU starting at 9.
The celebration was four years in the making for the senior Lady Bisons who have been in the tournament every year they have worn a Lipscomb uniform. This was their fifth trip to the tournament in the past six seasons.
“For three years we were over behind the dugout crying because we had worked so hard every single year, but we did not win,” senior center fielder Lauren Dortwegt said. “This year we worked even harder. We have been more together as a team this year. “We have a different mentality. We know what we want and we do it.”
The Lady Bisons had a delayed reaction to their win. They won the game in five innings, the first time an A-Sun championship game was called due to the eight-run rule. The coaching staff knew the rule was in effect, but the players weren’t aware of it. They were ready to play the last two innings when the announcement was made of their win.
“We had no idea we had one,” Dortwegt said. “It was not how I expected the celebration to go. It was definitely a surprise. We thought we had a couple of innings left.”
The Lady Bisons also won the regular season championship. They fulfilled the predictions of the conference coaches who predicted they would win both championships in preseason.
“It was wonderful to be here until the end this year,” said Kellie Sirus, senior first baseman and tournament most valuable player. “We have dreamed of what this day would feel like and it is an awesome feeling.
“It shows how much hard work our team has done this year and how far all the seniors have come since we were freshman. Each year all of us have matured a ton. We don’t get shaky or nervous. We stay calm and relaxed.”
It was the 29th shutout of the season for the Lady Bisons and the 12th of the season for pitcher Whitney Kiihnl who finished the tournament with a 3-1 record.
USC Upstate advanced to the championship by beating tournament host Stetson 2-1 earlier in the day. Upstate scored the winning run in the bottom of the seventh. Upstate had beaten the Lady Bisons 3-2 in the seventh inning Thursday night.
“Upstate had an emotionally draining game before they played us,” Ryman said. “The last couple of innings of that game were extremely stressful for both Upstate and Stetson.
“Any time you finish a game like that, win or lose, and then turn around and play a team that is fresh and has momentum is kind of hard. We took full advantage of that and came out firing right away.”
The necessity of having to fight out of the loser’s bracket may have been the extra motivation the Lady Bisons needed. After the loss they beat Kennesaw State 8-0 with 12 hits and Stetson 6-1 with 10 hits to earn a spot in the title game.
“Especially in the last three games we really turned it up a notch,” Ryman said. “They came out and just did it.
“Even though we lost that game to Upstate I still thought we were the best team in the tournament. The energy level from the girls on the bench was tremendous. Most of them can barely speak right now. They kept the players on the field energized.”
Senior second baseman Abby Keese stressed that the loss reminded the Lady Bisons they were not invincible in the conference.
“You want to go through the tournament undefeated, but I think the loss definitely helped us,” Keese said. “We have to come out and beat a very good Kennesaw State team that had beaten us during the regular season and then we had to beat Stetson which was undefeated in the tournament at the time.
“We brought everything we had to every game knowing it could be our last. After the first loss we knew if we made it to the championship it was going to be a matter of going big or going home. We left everything on the field.”
Written by Mark McGee, Senior Publisher/Director of Media Relations.