As TWU prepares for this weekend’s Lone Star Conference softball tournament, coach Richie Bruister says his team is peaking at the right time.
“You have to find the identity of your team,” he said. “That’s what we’ve been doing all year — looking at different lineups, defensively who needs to be where and if our pitchers and hitters are getting better. Obviously, your goal is to have it right when need be.”
The Pioneers (43-12, 21-6 Lone Star) enter the tournament as the No. 1 seed after capturing the regular-season crown and will face No. 8 Cameron (17-30, 10-17) at 7 p.m. Friday.
The tournament is hosted by No. 2 seed West Texas A&M and will conclude Sunday with a 1 p.m. championship game to determine the league’s automatic representative in the NCAA playoffs.
Last weekend, TWU claimed the school’s second LSC title in any sport by taking two of three at home against the Lady Buffs. The eighth-ranked Pioneers dropped the series opener Friday before sweeping a Saturday doubleheader with a come-from-behind victory in the finale.
“There’s been no quit on this team,” Bruister said. “When we’ve been down in a game, the kids didn’t quit. That says the heart and character of this team is the best I’ve ever been around.
“We’ve obviously got some great talent one through nine in our lineup, along with our key players off the bench and our pitchers,” he added. “It’s been a team effort. They get their jobs done in a selfless way.”
The Pioneers’ offense was explosive when TWU swept a three-game series at Cameron last month in the teams’ only meeting this season. TWU won by a combined score of 34-11.
“We’ve seen them, so we know what to expect,” Bruister said. “They’re a good team and their record doesn’t show how really good they are. We know we’ve got to come out and play a good game or they’ll beat us.”
If the Pioneers win their tournament opener, they’ll advance to a game at 2:30 p.m. Saturday against the winner between No. 4 Midwestern State and No. 5 Tarleton State.
TWU claims LSC awards
Bruister, junior Katie Hines and junior Brandie Lander swept four of the five major conference awards announced Tuesday.
Bruister was named LSC coach of the year after guiding the Pioneers to their fourth 40-win season and a top-25 national ranking for the past 10 weeks.
Hines captured player of the year honors after leading the conference in home runs (23), RBIs (74) and total bases (158). Hines leads NCAA Division II in homers and ranks fourth in RBIs.
A double winner, Lander was voted pitcher of the year and newcomer of the year. A transfer from Columbia State Community College, Lander led the conference in ERA at 1.97 while posting a 19-6 record.
Hines and Lander were joined on the all-conference first team by teammates Jordan Readicker, a senior, and junior Bailey Vrazel. Named to the second team were senior Larisa Garcia, junior Haley Colwell and sophomore Kendra Sancet. Sophomore infielder Sarah Wittenburg received honorable mention.
Golden Glove winners
TWU senior left fielder Lizzy Kelly and third baseman Readicker received Lone Star Conference Golden Glove Awards on Tuesday.
Kelly has started all 55 games this season while posting a perfect 1.000 fielding percentage, with 62 putouts and four assists.
Readicker also has started every game and finished the regular season with a .964 fielding percentage and just six errors. In conference play, she made just one error and posted a .988 fielding percentage.
The emotional week the Pioneers just had, starting with the Monday death of former teammate Abby Burns and ending with a conference championship on Saturday, resulted in feelings that Bruister called “extreme.”
Burns, whose career ended in 2011 prior to being diagnosed with leukemia, died April 22 and was buried Thursday. In ceremonies before a home game last Wednesday against Tarlton State, her No. 19 jersey was retired. The Pioneers wore commemorative T-shirts with the No. 19 on the back in her memory.
Following Burns’ funeral, at which Bruister delivered a eulogy, the Pioneers battled in a three-game series with West Texas A&M, sweeping a Saturday doubleheader to capture the program’s first regular-season Lone Star crown.
“The highs and lows were extreme,” Bruister said. “As a coach, I don’t want to ever have to go through a week like that again. Obviously, I liked the part of winning the conference, but with everything else that went on, I hope I never have another week like that.
“For our girls to come out and play like they did with all the emotions they were going through, it was unbelievable.”
Kelly, who along with Readicker carried Burns’ jersey to the pitching circle in her honor prior to Wednesday’s game, got the team’s first hit. Readicker later hit a walk-off homer to give TWU an extra-inning victory.
Lander picked up win No. 19 — matching Burns’ jersey number — in the game.
On Saturday, in the sixth inning of the series-deciding game against the Lady Buffs, Readicker blaster her 19th home run of the season to tie the game and spark the Pioneers to a 3-2 victory.
“Our kids went out there and had a mission,” said Bruister. “When I spoke at the funeral, I asked the question, ‘Do you believe in miracles?’ Well, I do.”
Bidding for regionals
TWU athletic department officials are submitting a bid to co-host the NCAA South Central Region tournament, which is scheduled to be announced Monday following conference championship tournaments.
Bruister said many factors, including facility size, hotel accommodations and the qualifying teams’ rankings, go into the selection committee’s final decision.
“It’s a ton of forms and a long process,” he said. “It’s a bid process that our athletic director will submit.”
Two schools host the regional tournament, with seeds 1, 4, 5 and 8 playing at one site and seeds 2, 3, 6 and 7 at the other site. The winners of the two brackets then play each other in a three-game Super Regional series to determine who advances to the Division II tournament in Salem, Va., later this month.
Four student-athletes were honored Monday as Outstanding Athletes in their respective sports at TWU’s annual athletic awards banquet.
As selected by their head coaches, junior Taylor Swift (basketball), senior Bethany Larimer (gymnastics), freshman Erin Bolinger (soccer) and Viktorija Jablonska (volleyball) were named each sport’s top athlete for the 2012-13 school year. Softball’s top player will be named following the completion of the season.
The Jo Kuhn Award for outstanding leadership was presented to Hines, while the Diane Baker Intensity Award went to Jablonska.
The Kitty Magee Award, recognizing the most dedicated student-athlete, was shared by senior gymnast Sara Grunert and senior volleyball player Haley Summers.
Wittenburg received the Golden Cast Award for being the most conscientious athlete in her treatment and rehabilitation of an injury.
For their longtime support of TWU athletics, Michael S. Auvenshine and Paul A. Whatley received Pioneer Athletics Champion awards.