With TWU making its third NCAA regional appearance in the last four years this weekend, there will be plenty of postseason experience in the Pioneers’ dugout — from the head coach to the players.
For seniors Jordan Readicker and Lizzy Kelly, this weekend’s three-day South Central Regional 1 — with TWU playing host at Pioneer Field beginning Friday — is familiar territory. They both were freshmen when TWU advanced in 2010 and were juniors in last year’s appearance.
Six of their current teammates, meanwhile, experienced last year’s tournament in which the Pioneers won the opening-round game before being eliminated with consecutive losses.
Of course, fifth-year head coach Richie Bruister also is returning for his third regional berth as the Pioneers’ skipper.
This knowledge of what to expect in the double-elimination tournament, in which the winner advances to the Super Regional next week, could be a huge advantage for the Pioneers (46-12).
“The first year we made it we were sitting in a restaurant, and I looked at this sign on the wall and it said, ‘Experience is what you get when you don’t get what you want.’ And we obviously didn’t get what we wanted that year,” Bruister said. “We got a win, which is good, and last year we got a little closer.”
Readicker and Kelly both saw regional action as freshmen in 2010. Kelly was the Pioneers’ starting pitcher in an elimination loss to host Emporia State, while Readicker started that game at third base and went hitless at the plate.
The two, along with current teammates Bailey Vrazel, Katie Hines, Kendra Sancet, Sarah Wittenburg, Christina Eberhard and Karissa Hartwig, all played key roles in last year’s regional effort. TWU won its opening-round game — a first in school history — before dropping a second game in extra innings and being eliminated with a 3-1 loss to St. Edwards.
“My freshman year was not only emotional, but I didn’t know what we were getting into,” Readicker said. “I was completely nervous and emotional the whole tournament.”
Kelly also endured freshman jitters when she got to experience the postseason as a first-year player.
“I didn’t know what to expect,” she said. “I was nervous and didn’t know anything about the teams we were playing. I’m certainly more confident with the team we have this year.”
With so much of his team earning playoff experience a year ago, Bruister believes his players will be just as prepared as they are excited for this year’s regional event on their home diamond.
“All the kids we’ve got who have been there before are going to benefit from the experiences they’ve had,” he said. “Our players know what to expect — the different format, the structure that goes with the practice times, the crowds that come out and all that. They’re prepared for it.”
TWU’s No. 1 ranking in the South Central Region coupled with last weekend’s Lone Star Conference tournament win secured the region’s No. 1 seed and role as host for this year’s regional.
The Pioneers will open the tournament Friday night at 7 p.m. against No. 8 seed Incarnate Word ... No. 4 St. Mary’s will play No. 5 Midwestern State in the tournament opener at 4:30 p.m. ... This is the fifth appearance for the Pioneers in the regional playoffs, having previously qualified in 2002, 2004, 2010 and 2012. ... TWU holds a record of 3-8 in regional play. ... TWU, by virtue of winning the Lone Star Conference tournament last weekend, is one of 22 automatic qualifiers for the NCAA playoffs. ... St. Mary’s has made 11 appearances in the regional tournament, most recently in 2011, and have a 28-19 record in postseason action. St. Mary’s won the Division II national title in 2002. ... The championship round of this weekend’s tournament is set to begin at 2 p.m. Sunday.
Though they may have to play out of the strange surroundings of the visitor’s third-base dugout, the Pioneers know playing on their home field in this weekend’s NCAA South Central Regional 1 is a big advantage.
“It’s huge being at home and having our fans come out and support us,” Kelly said. “We’ll get plenty of rest, and we won’t have to worry about finals because everyone’s going to be done taking their finals by Thursday. So it’ll be all softball, no travel and no worries. We’ll be pumped and excited.”
TWU is 21-3 at home this season and have set new home attendance records twice this year.
“The fans here at TWU are phenomenal,” Readicker said. “We’re doing good things and they’re out there supporting us. It makes us feel like we do have a home-field advantage.”
Four earn recognition
Four TWU softball players were recently named to the 2013 Capital One Academic All-District First Team, as selected by members of the College Sports Information Directors of America.
Senior Lizzy Kelly, juniors Bailey Vrazel and Katie Hines and sophomore Kendra Sancet all posted a cumulative grade-point average of 3.30 or better to qualify for the team. Vrazel, who has a perfect 4.00 GPA, was named to the team for the second straight year.
Kelly, a kinesiology major, holds a 3.76 GPA, while Hines, a nutrition major, has a 3.40 GPA. Sancet is a mathematics major and owns a 3.93 GPA.
First-team honorees advance to be on the Capitial One Academic All-America Team ballot. Three teams will be announced later this month.