More than a simple win or loss is riding on the outcome of tonight’s regular-season finale for the TWU basketball team.
A victory could affect the Pioneers (15-10, 10-5 Lone Star) in several ways. By wrapping up the season with a home win over Texas A&M-Commerce, TWU could earn the No. 2 seed in next week’s conference tournament.
Also, a win in the 7 p.m. matchup at Kitty Magee Arena could enhance the Pioneers’ No. 6 ranking in the NCAA South Central Region poll — a position they earned last week for the first time in school history. A team’s home record is a consideration in the poll voting, and a win over the Lions would improve TWU’s home mark to an impressive 12-1.
“It’s a really big deal because we could either finish second or get third,” seventh-year TWU head coach Beth Jillson said. “More importantly, it’s a big regional game for us for regional rankings.”
Adding to the anticipation of tonight’s game is the fact that it will mark the final home game for the Pioneers’ four seniors: Rebekah Cluley, Taylor Swift, Kaitlyn Waller and Mary Kovtun.
“It’s going to be sentimental for us because it’s the last home game for our four seniors, who have done a great job this year leading our team,” Jillson said. “We want to send these seniors out with a great win at home, and it’ll give us momentum going into the conference tournament.”
TWU is tied with Tarleton State for second place in the LSC. A win by TWU and a loss by the TexAnns in their finale on Saturday would give TWU the No. 2 seed going into the tournament. If the teams wind up in a tie for second, Tarleton wins the tiebreaker based on its win over regular-season champion West Texas A&M and TWU would be the third seed.
The LSC tournament begins next Wednesday in Allen. The No. 2 seed plays that day against the No. 7 seed, while No. 3 opens against No. 6 on March 6.
Lander a workhorse
Heading into the start of conference play on Friday, one thing is certain about the Pioneers: They’ve got a workhorse of a hurler in senior Brandie Lander.
TWU opens LSC play at home with a three-game series against Texas A&M-Kingsville. A 1 p.m. doubleheader Friday will be followed by a single game at noon Saturday, and it’s as much a sure thing as yellow softballs that Lander will be in the circle for TWU’s conference debut.
The right-hander has emerged as one of the strongest pitchers in the region and nation. Her 11-0 record is just the start. She’s pitched nine complete games, including five shutout wins, and has recorded 50 strikeouts. She’s sporting an ERA of 1.07.
“I knew we were going to have to use her quite a bit more this year due to the fact that we’re not strong in numbers as far as our pitching staff,” TWU coach Genny Stidham said. “We knew she was probably going to pitch more than she pitched last year. I really didn’t want to pitch her as much as she’s pitched this early on, but she’s the one’s who’s ... always asking me in the dugout, ‘Do you want me to warm up?’
“What more can you ask for than a pitcher that wants to be out there and wants to be that workhorse?”
Lander’s effort the first month of the season hasn’t gone unnoticed. For each of the past two weeks, she’s been named the LSC Pitcher of the Week.
Lander became the first pitcher in the LSC this season to achieve double-digit victories. She’s tossed the most complete games and shutouts in the conference, and her 71 2/3 innings ranks second only to Tarleton State’s Randi Fentress, who has logged 74 1/3 innings of work.
Stidham said Lander worked hard in the fall at correcting a footwork issue with her pitching motion and that she now is comfortable and confident being the cornerstone of TWU’s pitching staff.
“There’s no doubt that we’ve got a different pitcher from the fall than we’ve got this spring,” Stidham said. “I knew it was coming. I see her confidence, and I have just as much confidence in her as she has in herself. She’s gone out there and done what she needs to do. It’s all coming together for her.”
Consistency in all four events continues to frustrate TWU coach Lisa Bowerman, who last weekend watched as her team registered season-best performances on uneven bars and floor exercise.
The problem was that TWU struggled on vault and balance beam, which had been the Pioneers’ strongest events for most of the season leading up to Sunday’s second-place finish at a home triangular. Southeast Missouri State won the meet (194.300) ahead of TWU (193.625) and Centenary (190.425).
“I was extremely pleased with bars and floor,” Bowerman said. “Those were two events that we started off kind of slow this season. To finish the meet on floor with a season high was really, really good.
“At the same time, in terms of consistency and putting four events together, that’s where our struggle was,” she added. “Now that bars and floor are going, we’ve got to get beam back on track. We started off with beam being our best and one of our most consistent events, but we’ve hit some bumps in the road the last two weekends.”
TWU was led on bars by Courtney Cochefski and Katie Simpson sharing first place with scores of 9.825. On floor, all six TWU gymnasts scored 9.700 or better, with Margaret Mayfield and Brittany Montalbano sharing first-place honors at 9.825.
On beam, the Pioneers had to score two falls. On vault, the Pioneers’ Bethany Larimer tied for first with a 9.775 but TWU got no other score higher than 9.700.
“On vault, we just need to continue to be cleaner, more precise in our landings and things like that,” Bowerman said.
The Pioneers remain at home this weekend and will host Bowling Green at 7 p.m. Saturday.