If regional qualifying scores are any indication, the fight for a conference title at this weekend’s Midwest Independent Conference meet will be a down-to-the-wire battle between TWU, Illinois-Chicago and Southeast Missouri State.
But Pioneers coach Lisa Bowerman cautions to not count out the MIC’s other three competitors — Lindenwood, host Illinois State and Centenary.
“It’s going to be extremely competitive,” Bowerman said. “That seems to be the case most years.
“I don’t count anybody out,” she said. “I think every team that’s competing there is capable of winning. It’s just going to be who hits on that day. Our focus going in is to just do the best gymnastics that we can do.”
The championship meet is being held at 4 p.m. Saturday in Normal, Ill.
The Pioneers’ best has lifted them to the top of the six-team conference rankings. TWU’s regional qualifying score of 194.010 narrowly puts it ahead of Illinois-Chicago (193.980) and Southeast Missouri (193.835).
In terms of the teams’ high scores for the season, the Pioneers (194.775) trail UIC (195.200) and Southeast Missouri (195.025).
“The good news is we’re reaching our potential,” Bowerman said. “We’re reaching our peak right now, which is where we want to be. We’re finding our rhythm; we’re finding our confidence.”
A trio of seniors is expected to lead the Pioneers this weekend. Bethany Larimer has been one of TWU’s most consistent performers in three events (vault, uneven bars and balance beam), while Brittainy Johnson is another three-event performer whom Bowerman is expecting “big performances” from. Brittany Montalbano has turned in the most consistent scores on vault and floor exercise this season and posted a career-best score in vault last weekend.
“Those three seniors have been very dependable,” Bowerman said.
“When you get to this point in the season, you’re hoping that have a set, solid lineup,” she said. “We’ve relied on pretty much the same people this season. There’s the possibility of a few changes here and there, but we’re pretty well set in terms of the core of our lineup.”
A rare preview
Getting a chance over the weekend to see Bridgeport, a team the Pioneers have targeted as a main rival at the USA Gymnastics national meet the last five years, gave Bowerman a rare preview of the team she’ll be sending her squad up against in a few weeks.
The Pioneers got a sense of where they stand with Bridgeport, which has edged out TWU for the national title the past four seasons. Last weekend at a four-way meet at Arizona, the Pioneers placed third, ahead of Bridgeport.
“It’s something we were all looking forward to because we don’t ever get to compete against Bridgeport during the regular season,” Bowerman said. “The only time we see them is at nationals.”
TWU posted a season-high team score for a road meet with a 194.574. Arizona captured first place (196.425) with BYU taking second (196.025) and Bridgeport fourth (193.675).
Hosting No. 1
TWU plays a home series for just the third time this season, hosting last week’s No. 1 team in Division II for a four-game set beginning Friday.
The Pioneers, who went 2-1 in the rain-shortened Lone Star Conference Showcase over the weekend, will host West Texas A&M (24-3, 5-3 LSC) for doubleheaders Friday (5 p.m.) and Saturday (1 p.m.) at Pioneer Field.
TWU battled its way to a pair of LSC wins by run-ruling Texas A&M-Kingsville 13-4 and fighting off Cameron 4-3 in eight innings. The Pioneers (19-7, 5-4) lost 8-7 in eight innings to No. 12 Angelo State.
The hot bats of the Pioneers — Kendra Sancet and Alyssa Galaz each slammed two home runs against A&M-Kingsville — will need to remain that way against the Lady Buffs. Three of the conference’s top four pitchers wear the colors of West Texas.
The Lady Buffs’ Hannah Newcomb and Rita Hokianga are ranked first and second, respectively, in earned run average and have a combined record of 18-3. Newcomb is the only LSC pitcher with an ERA under 2.00 at 1.72, while Hokianga owns a 2.22 ERA and leads the Lone Star with 125 strikeouts. Tori Bayer ranks fourth in ERA at 2.62 and enters the series with a 6-0 record.
Sancet, meanwhile leads the LSC in homers (13) and slugging percentage (1.000) and is second in runs batted in with 39.
Brandie Lander continues to anchor the Pioneer pitching staff with a conference-leading 13 victories while holding opposing batters to a .230 average, which ranks second in the conference. Her 11 complete games are the most in the LSC.
Cancellations due to poor field conditions at the Lone Star Conference Showcase in Wichita Falls forced some changes to TWU’s schedule.
Because the teams didn’t get to play last week, TWU now will play two doubleheaders in four-game series with West Texas A&M, Midwestern State and Eastern New Mexico. TWU and Tarleton State will play home doubleheaders against each other, scheduled for April 12 at TWU and April 17 at Tarleton State.
TWU will play back-to-back doubleheaders when it hosts Midwestern State on April 4 and 5. The Pioneers will play a four-game series at Eastern New Mexico on March 28 and 29.
The three-game series against Cameron scheduled for April 25-26 remains as scheduled since the two teams played each other last weekend in the LSC Showcase.