TWU softball coach Genny Stidham hopes that salvaging a win against No. 1 West Texas A&M in the final game of a four-game series over the weekend will be the spark that lifts her Pioneers out of a tough stretch they’ve endured the last two weeks.
Over the past 10 games, the Pioneers (20-12, 6-7 Lone Star) have gone 3-7 while losing four of four against No. 11 Angelo State and three of four against the Lady Buffs.
“We’re a little off track,” Stidham said. “In every season you have an area where you don’t play up to your full capabilities. We’re struggling a little bit. We’re not playing to our full capabilities, and I think that’s weighing on us a little bit.”
In the three wins TWU has dating back to the start of the March 13-15 Lone Star Conference Showcase, the Pioneers have averaged seven runs per game. But in the seven losses, TWU opponents are scoring an average of 10 runs per game.
Stidham says several factors are contributing to her team’s struggles. She said many of her players view West Texas as more of a rival than other LSC opponents and the Pioneers may have gotten too tense to play their best ball.
Stidham also said the team may be struggling to deal with expectations based on last year’s conference title and run to the national tournament.
“A lot of it has to do with they want it so much,” Stidham said. “Sometimes nerves and being uptight play a factor in your performance. I think if they could just relax and enjoy the game and try to play it like it’s supposed to be played, it’d be better.
“I think they see themselves falling a little short at this point in time and they put more pressure on themselves to produce,” she said. “I’m hoping that last win turns the tide a bit. We’re just going through a hard time right now, and hopefully we can relax and start enjoying the game a little more.”
In Saturday’s win, TWU pitcher Katie Hines allowed just two runs and four hits.
“Katie did a fantastic job. She kept them scoreless for six innings,” Stidham said. “She’s finding her groove.”
After playing a nonconference doubleheader Tuesday against St. Mary’s, the Pioneers will visit Eastern New Mexico this weekend for a three-game LSC series.
Johnson bound for regionals
TWU senior Brittainy Johnson, who tied for first place in two events last weekend at the Midwest Independent Conference meet, learned Monday that she has qualified for the NCAA regional meet April 5 at Arkansas.
Johnson, who shared first-place honors on vault and uneven bars Saturday, was named a regional qualifier on bars. She will serve as an alternate on balance beam.
Bethany Larimer was named a regional alternate on vault.
Johnson helped TWU to a second-place MIC finish and a new school record on bars. She was named first-team All-MIC on vault and bars, while Ciara Maradiaga (beam), Brittany Montalbano (floor exercice), Stephanie Repp (beam), Spencer Jones (floor) and Amy Winczura (floor) also landed on the first team after posting top-three finishes. Winczura and Courtney Cochefski received second-team honors for placing in the top six.
Johnson competed on bars in every meet this season, scoring 9.800 or higher in eight meets and earning 9.850 four times.
The Pioneers got what they expected — a tough battle from start to finish — at the MIC meet but came away frustrated at stumbling in the final event and finishing in second place.
“The meet itself was exactly what we were expecting,” third-year head coach Lisa Bowerman said. “From the very start, we jumped out into a battle.”
The Pioneers turned in strong performances in the first two rotations, on floor and vault, and came out after a bye to score a school-record 49.325 on bars, as five of TWU’s six gymnasts scored 9.850 or higher. Johnson shared first place with her career-high 9.900.
“Bars was very exciting — hitting and sticking our landings,” Bowerman said. “Then we found out it was a school record. We couldn’t have set it up any better. Going into beam, knowing we have an experienced beam lineup of four seniors and two juniors, we went over there feeling very confident.”
However, the Pioneers suffered three falls in the final event, with two counting toward their overall score.
“We knew we had put it in [Southeast Missouri State’s] hands,” Bowerman said. “That was a really disappointing way to end a good meet.”
TWU will have two representatives at the NCAA regionals and will begin team preparations for the USA Gymnastics Collegiate National Championships set for April 12-14 in Providence, R.I.
Bowerman said she was “surprised” and “honored” when she was named the MIC coach of the year after her Pioneers finished second at the conference meet.
It marks her first time to receive the award, although she was named the MIC assistant coach of the year with the Pioneers in 2007, 2010 and 2011.
“I honestly was very surprised,” Bowerman said. “The teams in our conference are very competitive, and they’re that way because of the coaches who lead them. I was definitely honored. It’s the head coaches who vote for the award, and coming from those peers it meant a lot.”