NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Mickey Bell admits that even she was in awe of her swing.
Leading off the eighth inning, and faced with a 2-1 count, Bell blasted a walk-off home run to right center to give the Lipscomb Lady Bisons a 5-4 win over Kennesaw State Wednesday night in the first day of the Atlantic Sun Conference Championship at Draper Diamond.
“I was really excited,” Bell said. “The ball felt really good coming off the bat. I wasn’t sure it was going to go out, but I was pleading `please, please go out’.”
The Lady Bisons advance to play North Florida, the No. 1 seed, Thursday at 12:30 p.m. Both teams won 18 games this season in conference play. The Lady Bisons, the No. 4 seed, lost two of three games to the Ospreys March 24 and 25 at Draper Diamond.
“North Florida is a good team,” LU coach Kristin Ryman said. “They are up there for a reason. I think the girls are pumped and excited about playing North Florida.”
Ryman expects that her Lady Bisons will face Kaylee Wallace, the A-Sun Pitcher of the Year. Wallace has a 22-5 record and a 1.47 earned run average.
“Kaylee Wallace from a performance standpoint threw the best of anybody in the A-Sun this year,” Ryman said. “She doesn’t make many mistakes. She hits her spots. She keeps the ball down. She doesn’t give up many big hits.
“We are going to have to maybe string some things together if we want to have a chance. We have to make adjustments early with her off speed stuff. She is going to give us a different look than we saw against Kennesaw State. We have to find ways to make things happen.”
An emphasis for the Purple and Gold is composure as they deal with the added pressure of conference play.
“We talked a lot about composure before the game and we talked about it a lot during the game,” Ryman said. “We had some moments where we looked like we were playing really tight and almost hesitant, especially in the outfield. We have to play our game and be loose.”
Bell, a member of the A-Sun All-Freshman Team, has been a consistent player at the plate for the Lady Bisons. She seldom strikes out and has shown flashes of power.
“It was an outside pitch and she went opposite field with it,” Ryman said. “I was really proud of that at bat. For her to get a big hit like that is exciting for her and exciting for the team.”
“Mickey doesn’t do a lot of things that are flashy. She is very steady. She can at times go unnoticed because of that. It is impressive to see a freshman who can consistently put the ball in play. It shows what the future of this program is capable of.”
It was a game of ups and downs for both teams, especially the Lady Bisons.
Kennesaw State struck first in the second inning with one run. The game had been delayed for 34 minutes after the first inning due to a lightning strike that cleared the field and the stands.
The Lady Bisons scored four runs in the bottom of the second. With two outs Heather Montgomery connected for an RB I- double down the right field line. Brittany Elmore drove in two runs on a single and Paige Neely added one more on a single.
That was all the scoring the Lady Bisons would be able to muster until the eighth.
“We had such a great start and then we made a few mistakes that hurt us,” Ryman said. “And Kennesaw State made some key adjustments against Heather Parker that allowed them to hit her more consistently than she has been hit lately.”
Kennesaw State capitalized on a solo homer by Kaylee Williams to start the fourth inning and a two-run double from Carly Van Auken to tie the game.
The Lady Bisons got a mental boost in the top of the eighth when center fielder Bree Thurman nailed Van Auken at home plate.
“That was all Bree,” Bell said. “It was spot on. She made a perfect throw.”
Ryman knew that Thurman was going to have shot to make the play at home.
“She made it an easy tag for Mickey,” Ryman said. “What a huge play at that point in the game. That gave us a lot of momentum going into the bottom of the eighth.”
Abby Mixon pitched the final 5.1 innings for the Owls. She gave up only four hits and struck out five.
“We talked about making adjustments against Mixon,” Ryman said. “We talked about being on time. She was providing the power. We just had to get our barrel there, be on time and see the ball.
“We struggled to make that adjustment the first few innings. We didn’t have a lot of hits to show for it. And then Mickey came up and finally connected.”
Parker started for the Lady Bisons. She gave up nine hits and four runs, three earned, in 5.2 innings. She walked two and struck out one.
Tanner Sanders closed out the game and picked up her 18th win of the season. She scattered three hits, walked three and struck out two.
“I thought at times Tanner was tight, but she came in and got the job done,” Ryman said. “For somebody who really hasn’t come in and relieved that much this year I thought she did a really nice job.”