A simple philosophy paid explosive dividends last weekend for the TWU softball team, which followed coach Richie Bruister’s principles to a record-setting level.
In his five years with the Pioneers, Bruister has instructed batters to “swing hard in case you hit it.” The humorous yet effective approach resulted in a huge weekend for the No. 9 Pioneers (30-7, 8-1 Lone Star) in a three-game conference sweep at Cameron.
They swung hard and hit it — to the tune of 12 home runs in the series, including a school-record six in a 15-7 win Friday. It marked the second time in a little over a year that the Pioneers had broken the record, having hit five against Texas A&M-Kingsville on March 3, 2012.
Jordan Readicker drilled three of those homers to set a new school mark for long balls in a game.
“It’s a simple, relaxed philosophy,” Bruister said. “We don’t try to hit home runs; we’re just trying to hit the ball hard. They know if they try to hit a home run the mechanics of their swing get messed up. You’re not going to hit home runs if you’re trying to do that.”
TWU’s fireworks resulted in a doubleheader sweep, with a 9-2 win coming in the second game. Katie Hines, who hit two homers in the opener, added her third of the day in the nightcap, while Readicker and Haley Colwell also connected.
On Saturday, Hines hit two more homers to run her season total to 16, a new school record. Bailey Vrazel stole three bases to run her career mark to 184 and break the LSC record.
“Was the hitting contagious? I think it was,” Bruister said. “When you put a good swing on it, good things are going to happen. It was one of those weekends where they were flying out of the park.”
The performance came in less-than-ideal conditions, with strong winds, temperatures in the 40s and occasional mist.
Between games Friday, the Pioneers huddled in their bus to combat the cold.
“It’s not fun to play in,” Bruister said. “We made it as enjoyable as we could, but we were glad to get back on the bus and come back home.”
The Pioneers will host Eastern New Mexico (10-25, 3-6) for a doubleheader at 5 p.m. Thursday and a single game at noon Friday.
Hines earns LSC honor
Hines has been named Lone Star Hitter of the Week for March 19-25. She earned the honor for the first time this season and second in her career.
Hines led the team with five home runs, 13 RBIs, 23 total bases and seven hits at Cameron. She drove in the game-winning run in all three games and posted a .500 batting average and a 1.643 slugging percentage.
Hines leads the LSC in RBIs (51), home runs (16), slugging percentage (.924) and total bases (109). She’s second in doubles (12) and third in hits (49).
Easter events planned for Good Friday game
Softball fans can get a jump on Easter weekend at TWU’s Good Friday Fest.
During the noon game against Eastern New Mexico, fans young and old can participate in a coloring contest and hop like the Easter Bunny on a hopscotch course set up in the Pioneer Field promotions area.
Following the game, children in fifth grade and below can participate in a free Easter egg hunt on the outfield grass.
Adult general admission tickets cost $5, while youth and senior citizen tickets cost $3.
Disappointed but not done
Although her Pioneers finished a disappointing fourth at last week’s Midwest Independent Conference championship meet, coach Lisa Bowerman was pleased with the individual performances she witnessed, and the team now looks ahead to the USA Gymnastics Collegiate National Championships next month.
“We’re disappointed we had to count a fall on beam, but fourth place doesn’t do us justice. It was a great meet and a great performance,” Bowerman said.
Just as Bowerman had predicted, it was a tight battle for the team title, with less than one point separating the top four finishers. The Pioneers’ 194.775 trailed champion Illinois-Chicago (195.600), Illinois State (195.425) and Southeast Missouri State (195.050) and were ahead of Lindenwood and Centenary.
Courtney Cochefski was the lone Pioneer to claim an event title, sharing first place on bars.
TWU also got career-best performances from Ciara Maradiaga on floor exercise (9.800) and balance beam (9.850) and Kristen Edwards on vault (9.875).
“We went in hoping that every team would perform well and that it would be close,” Bowerman said. “So to us it really didn’t feel like a fourth-place finish. The girls did really well, and I think they’re on a good track.
“We’re peaking at the right time.”
Two NCAA regional qualifiers, Cochefski (bars) and Edwards (vault), along with alternate Bethany Larimer (vault) will focus on the South Central Region meet April 6 in Norman, Okla., before the entire team turns its attention to the USAG meet April 12-14 in Shreveport, La.
Five Pioneers earn honors
The MIC announced all-conference honors at last week’s meet, with five Pioneers earning the recognition.
Being named first-team All-MIC were Edwards (vault), Cochefski (bars), Larimer (vault) and Maradiaga (beam).
In all-around, Spencer Jones was named to the second team.
Preparing for nationals
Following a couple of off days, the Pioneers have returned to practice in preparation for the USAG national meet.
Three teams the Pioneers won’t have to worry about at nationals are the squads that finished ahead of them at the MIC meet. Because Illinois-Chicago, Illinois State and Southeast Missouri offer more than eight full scholarships in gymnastics, those schools are ineligible for the USAG finals.
The USAG meet is open to all NCAA divisions, but TWU competes in a category in which schools are limited to issuing eight or fewer scholarships in the sport.
“We always want to do well at conference, but if we’re going to save our best performances for the end of the year, we’re going to hope it comes at nationals,” Bowerman said.