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Softball has a home flavor to its spring schedule

Wednesday, December 11, 2013
by Mark McGee

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – There is no place like home, especially to start a season.

The Lipscomb Lady Bisons softball team will be opening the 2014 season at Draper Diamond Feb. 7 as part of the Music City Classic, a tournament held in cooperation with Belmont.

The Lady Bisons will face Virginia Tech at 4 p.m. Feb. 7 to open the season. On Feb.8 they play Miami-Ohio at 2 followed by Tennessee State at 4:30. They close out with Butler at 2 p.m. Feb. 9.

“Belmont coach Chris Kuhlmeyer and I are good friends,” Lipscomb coach Kristin Ryman said. “He asked me if I would be interested in co-hosting with them. Other than the weather being hit or miss we jumped at the idea.

“The schools are so close together that it will help opposing teams that have to switch fields. If they have to play at different fields they are only about two miles down the road. I think it is going to be a good thing.”

The Lady Bisons will play a shorter than usual tournament schedule this season. The Atlantic Sun Conference schedule starts a week earlier and that eliminates the opportunity to play in an additional tournament.

The Lady Bisons travel to Waco, Texas for the Getterman Classic hosted by Baylor Feb. 14-16. The Lady Bisons will play Iowa at 10 a.m. on the 14th followed by Drake at 12:30 p.m. On Feb. 15 they face East Carolina at 12:30 and host Baylor at 3 p.m. They close out the classic with UAB, a rival for the past several years, at 9 a.m.

“That is going to be an exciting tournament for us,” Ryman said. “It is a tournament we played in when I was an assistant coach.

“Baylor is in the Big 12. They have unbelievable facilities. Baylor has a great environment. They do things right there. They have been a World Series team before. They have made the Super Regionals quite a few times.”

Ryman also likes the fact that two of her players, Bridgette Begle and Gracey Aguirre, are returning to their home state. Both of them live in the Houston area, but it will be a chance for their families to see them play without having to make the long drive to Tennessee.

The final preconference tournament is scheduled for Feb. 21-23 at the Memphis Tournament hosted by the University of Memphis. The Lady Bisons will face Appalachian State on Feb. 21 at 2:30 followed by Evansville at 5. On Feb. 22 they play SEMO at 12:30 and Missouri State at 10 a.m. They will meet Murray State Feb. 23 at noon.

“That will be a mixture of some teams we have seen in the recent past and some we have not seen in quite a while,” Ryman said. “But I believe we have played every team on that list at some point.

“It will be a good last test before we start conference play. We will be facing a lot of mid-majors. It will help us answer the question of if we can show up and do what we need to do.”

The tournament also gives Kristen Sturdivant, Haley Elliott and Dee Baddley, all from near the Memphis area, the opportunity to play in front of their friends and families.

The non-conference schedule features Belmont, Tennessee Tech and Tennessee State from the Ohio Valley Conference.

The Lady Bisons make the short trip to Belmont for a 3:30 p.m. doubleheader Feb. 26. They face Tennessee Tech March 11 in a doubleheader in Cookeville. The Lady Bisons close out the regular season with a doubleheader against Tennessee State May 1 at Draper Diamond.

Ohio, from the MAC, is stopping for a single game March 5 on the way to another tournament.

“Ohio was relatively new to our schedule,” Ryman said. “To play them two years in a row is a neat thing.”

The Lady Bisons will have a rematch with UAB in a doubleheader at Draper Diamond April 2 at 3 p.m. The Lady Bisons will travel to Bowling Green April 23 to face Western Kentucky, also from Conference USA.

“They are two teams that are a lot like us,” Ryman said. “UAB really had a breakout season last year making it to the Super Regionals. They were the mid-major everyone across the country was rooting for. 

“Marla Townsend and her staff do a great job of getting their players ready to play against tougher competition. We are always excited to play them. It is one of those non-conference matchups we circle on our calendar because we know they are going to be a tough opponent.”

Western Kentucky is a familiar foe, but the coaching staff is new.

“We have certainly had our moments against Western Kentucky,” Ryman said.

Tennessee-Chattanooga, from the Southern Conference, and Memphis, from the American Athletic Conference, are also familiar faces for the Lady Bisons.

The Lady Bisons travel to Chattanooga March 20 for a single game at 5 p.m. They visit Memphis March 26 for a single game, also at 5 p.m.

“Those are two programs that are always in the mix,” Ryman said. “Coach Natalie Poole does a great job. They will be ready to go.

“We are playing UTC on spring break. They have a great facility and a great environment to play in. UTC is a very athletic team. They will be a tough test before we play Kennesaw State that weekend.”

The Lady Bisons open the A-Sun portion of the schedule March 1 and 2 on the road in Jacksonville at North Florida.

Ryman would have preferred to play a fourth tournament before the beginning of the A-Sun schedule but she is certain her team will adjust.

“We will be ready to go on Feb. 7 as much as we are ready to go on March 1,” Ryman said. “We will have our team prepared regardless. Even though the team we put on the field Feb. 7 will still have some kinks to work out, hopefully it is a team that will be prepared to start the season.”

Home conference series for the Lady Bisons are Florida Gulf Coast (March 8-9), Jacksonville (March 15-16), ETSU (April 5-6), Mercer (April 12-13) and Northern Kentucky (April 26-27).

In addition to the North Florida series the Lady Bisons will play Kennesaw State (March 22-23), USC Upstate (March 29-30) and Stetson (April 18-19) on the road.

Ryman expects another tough A-Sun season with the top teams returning the majority of their players. 

The A-Sun Tournament returns for the second year in a row to Draper Diamond. The top six teams in the conference will play for the NCAA automatic bid May 7-10.