As coaches often do, TWU’s Genny Stidham focused on the positives to come from the shock of getting swept in a three-game softball series last weekend at Angelo State.
The Pioneers (17-6, 3-3 Lone Star) entered the weekend with a No. 4 ranking and on a 10-game winning streak before the Rambelles blasted their way to 11-3, 15-9 and 9-6 victories that dropped TWU’s mark in conference play to .500.
“When you get that loss after so many wins, it’s devastating,” Stidham said. “I think they were extremely disappointed. They were on a high, and when we lost on Friday it was hard for them. We didn’t play to our full capabilities.”
There were some bright spots. After Friday’s loss, the Pioneers continued to score runs. Plus, Stidham said she never saw any quit in her team, despite falling behind 10-2 in Saturday’s first game and giving up a 5-0 lead early in the second game of a doubleheader.
“What I liked is there were times that we were close to run-rules,” Stidham said. “We could easily have laid down, but they didn’t give up. To me that a true sign of a winner. That’s what we took away from [last] weekend — that we’re always in a ballgame as long as we can swing the bat.”
Another factor in the Pioneers’ struggles was the inability of the pitchers and defense to adjust to playing on an artificial surface. Most fields have a dirt pitching circle and dirt infield, so the pitchers had to adjust their motion to the softer surface while the defense had to react to balls that rolled quicker off the artificial grass.
“I think they definitely had a home-field advantage,” Stidham said. “But they just outhit us. We swung the bat well, but we didn’t stop them from scoring.”
This week, TWU participates in the Lone Star Conference Showcase, a four-day competition in which the Pioneers will face six of their seven LSC foes. The Pioneers open play in the tournament, hosted by Midwestern State, on Thursday night against Cameron.
TWU heads into new season
Although there’s one more regular-season meet on the schedule, TWU coach Lisa Bowerman is treating the next five weeks like a brand-new season.
She says the Pioneers’ season-high team score of 194.775 last weekend could propel them to greater success as they begin to focus on the Midwest Independent Conference meet (March 22), NCAA regional (April 5) and the USA Gymnastics Collegiate National Championships (April 12-14).
First, the Pioneers must wrap up the regular season Saturday in a four-way meet at Arizona against the Wildcats, BYU and Bridgeport.
“My message to the team before [Sunday’s meet] was to use the meet as a springboard into the rest of the season,” Bowerman said. “I told the team after the meet that this is our starting point and there’s no looking back. There is still a lot of work to be done.”
TWU placed third out of four teams at its final home competition, with No. 3 Oklahoma placing first (198.150), No. 12 Minnesota taking second (196.275) and Michigan State finishing fourth (194.350).
The Pioneers posted season-high scores in two events: a 48.900 on vault and a 48.850 on balance beam.
Bumped from postseason
Midwestern State jumped two spots in the South Central Region rankings and kept TWU from receiving an at-large bid to the NCAA regional tournament.
The Pioneers (16-12) and Mustangs both split the two games they played at last week’s Lone Star Conference tournament, but Midwestern State received the regional berth by landing the No. 7 seed after ranking ninth last week.
TWU was No. 8 in the region last week.
The Pioneers opened the LSC tournament with a win over Texas A&M-Kingsville before falling 61-46 to Tarleton State in the semifinals. The Mustangs downed Angelo State in overtime before losing 86-85 to eventual champion West Texas A&M in a semifinal battle.
The LSC has three teams advancing to the South Central Regional: top seed West Texas A&M, Tarleton State and Midwestern State.
Four Pioneers were recognized at the Lone Star Conference awards banquet, headed by guard Kenesha Saygo being named the freshman of the year.
Senior center Mary Kovtun was selected to the inaugural All-LSC Defensive Team, senior guard Rebekah Cluley earned second-team all-conference honors and junior forward Ria Pateraki received all-conference honorable mention.
Saygo, from Killeen, was third on the team in scoring with 8.9 points per game. She scored in double digits in 11 games, including a career-high 21 points against Texas A&M-Kingsville in February.
Kovtun led the LSC with 53 blocked shots, including a career-best and LSC tournament-record eight blocks in the semifinal loss to Tarleton State. Cluley led the Pioneers with a 13.1 scoring average and paced the team with her 98 assists and 41 steals.
Pateraki led TWU with her .485 field goal percentage, finishing second on the team in scoring (10.3) and rebounding (4.6).