In sports, a change of temperament and tactics when entering the postseason is often utilized to help raise the level of play of a team or player. For the TWU Pioneers, they don’t need or want to change a thing.
Sure, there are a few minor changes. There are NCAA South Central Regional Championship banners hanging. There is fresh dirt in the batter’s box and in the pitcher’s circle. The Pioneers even added three new banners to their outfield fence, including the newly acquired Lone Star Conference champion and tournament champion banners in preparation for today’s start of the South Central Regional 1 tournament at Pioneer Field.
But for this 46-win team in its third regionals in four years, change is unnecessary, and as junior LSC Player of the Year Katie Hines simply puts it — “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.”
It’s that type of approach that Hines feels has given the Pioneers so much success this season, especially in last weekend’s LSC tournament in Canyon.
“We’re just trying to take it one day at a time,” Hines said. “We went to the conference tournament to win the first game, the second game and then the third game. We’re going into regionals worried about Incarnate Word and nobody after that. We’ve been taking it one game at a time, one day of practice at a time and one pitch at a time. That’s why I think we’ve been doing really well.”
For head coach Richie Bruister, his approach resides in the now, not the recent championships.
“I think you just come out and have fun,” Bruister said. “It sounds simple, but that’s the key. The last thing you want to do is stress out about it. It’s still softball. Nothing has changed between last weekend and this weekend. No matter what happens, we’ve had one heck of a season already with those accomplishments we’ve had.”
This year’s TWU softball team has a collective humbleness to it. Always thinking team first, the Pioneers are quick to praise a teammate or a coach. They know they’re good, but they also know what type of preparation it takes to get to the position they are in.
“I feel like between all of us, we know how good we are, but then again we know how hard we have to work to be as good as we are,” junior Bailey Vrazel said. “It’s not just going to be handed to us. We’re a team that never gives up, so I feel like we deserve what we get. We need to stay relaxed and good things will happen, because that’s what’s been happening.”
Hines was named LSC Player of the Year thanks to her versatility as the team’s clean-up hitter and pitcher, as she is second among Division II players in home runs with 24, just two back of the lead, and fourth in RBIs per game.
“Katie is doing great this year,” Vrazel said. “She’s having the season of her life, but then again, I think it’s more of a team aspect. The team is her priority. She works hard every day just like the rest of us. We have the speed at the top and the power in the middle. It’s the best team I’ve ever played on.”
Hines also broke school records in home runs and RBIs, but she is also a crucial piece of the Pioneers three-pronged pitching attack.
Hines sports a record of 11-3, while Larisa Garcia (15-1), LSC tournament MVP, and Brandie Lander (20-6), LSC Pitcher of the Year and Co-Newcomer of the Year, round out a more than formidable set of hurlers.
Hines said she did have to deal with her own, self-imposed pressure as her season began to develop.
“It started out with no pressure, but midway through the season when I was starting to do better, I had to take a step back to take that pressure off and think about the team,” Hines said.
Bruister has the difficult decision of choosing which of his starters to send out against the Pioneers’ opening opponent, Incarnate Word (30-24), at 7 p.m. today.
“The thing about our pitchers is that they are all different,” Bruister said. “They work together as a team. We’ve found good chemistry. They’ve all saved each other’s tails all year long. If somebody is not on, we put someone else in and they’ve come in and got the job done.”
One aspect that hasn’t changed this season is Bruister’s de-emphasis of seeding and rankings, but TWU heads into the regional tournament ranked No. 6 in Division II.
Outside of the initial advantage of seeding, Bruister said the team is just like any other team in the field and that it’s going to take that mindset, one that thrives on consistency, not an over-tinkering of lineups or a pump up in attitude, to move on to the super regionals and possibly further.
“Obviously seeding is great because it gives us home-field advantage, but after that, I think that’s where it stops,” Bruister said. “It doesn’t matter who won what. I know St. Mary’s, Midwestern [State] and Incarnate Word could care less. These teams are not intimidated. They’ve played us, they’re good and they’ll be trying to prove a point.”
PATRICK HAYSLIP can be reached at 940-566-6873 and via Twitter at @PatrickHayslip.