When the field for this weekend’s NCAA South Central Regional Softball Championship was announced Monday, TWU head coach Genny Stidham admitted to being thrilled — not for being awarded a berth in the postseason but rather for the new and unknown opponent the Pioneers will be playing.
TWU earned the No. 4 seed in the eight-team tournament and will face Metro State in an opening-round game at 4 p.m. Friday in Canyon, where the three-day double-elimination tournament is being played at West Texas A&M.
While five of the eight regional teams are from the Lone Star Conference, TWU begins play against the No. 5-seeded — and unknown — Roadrunners instead of being matched with a fellow LSC member they’ve already played numerous times this season.
“It’s exciting,” said Stidham, who led the Pioneers to a 34-17 regular-season record in her first season as head coach. “That’s what makes the game fun, playing somebody you’ve never played before.
“Instead of playing the same team five times in one season, which we’ve done several times already this year, we’re playing someone new,” she added. “They don’t know what we have and we don’t know what they have. So, it’s going to be fun.”
The Roadrunners are 32-15 this season and captured the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference title last weekend. The Pioneers split two games at the LSC tournament last weekend, defeating Tarleton State 5-4 before being eliminated with an 18-5 loss to Angelo State.
West Texas A&M won the LSC title and will serve as host for the South Central Regional tournament. The eight-team field is divided into two brackets and is double-elimination. In the Region I bracket, No. 4 TWU faces No. 5 Metro State followed by No. 1 West Texas playing No. 8 Midwestern State on Friday. The winners will advance to a Saturday afternoon game followed by an elimination game between the two opening-round losers.
The winners of the two South Central Regional brackets will move on to play a best-of-three Super Regional series to determine a berth in the national championship tournament.
“It’s kind of refreshing not to go out there and say we know what this girl can and can’t hit,” said Stidham of playing Metro State. “Here we get to find out what they can and can’t do — we’ll just have statistics to go by.
“Just the fact that you’re playing somebody different is nice,” she added. “I feel we have an extremely tough conference and I’m tired of playing everybody over and over again. It doesn’t add to the excitement. The unknown is not there.”
During the regular season, TWU played Angelo State five times, while playing West Texas A&M, Midwestern State and Cameron four times each. So instead of relying on a well-used scouting report on an LSC opponent, Stidham said she and her coaches will count on Internet statistics and, if available, game video and opponent scouting reports to prepare for Metro State this week.
Actual video footage of Division II softball games is sometimes difficult to locate. Also, Stidham does not frequently seek out scouting reports from other coaches who have previously played an upcoming opponent, since her personnel is always different from the players on the team providing the report.
“We’ll go up on their website and pull up their statistics,” said Stidham. “We’ll get the stats and watch video if we can and go from there.”
Stidham also wants her players to clear their heads of last weekend’s 13-run manhandling that sent them home from the LSC tournament.
“We’ve got to get our heads correct because we’re coming off a pretty serious loss,” she said. “We’ve got to get mentally correct, get some rest and then get mentally sharp.”
Playing on artificial turf at West Texas A&M’s Schaeffer Park in this weekend’s South Central Regional is something Pioneers head coach Genny Stidham is definitely going to prepare her team for.
TWU is returning to Canyon for the second straight week after splitting two games in the Lone Star Conference tournament last weekend. TWU was ousted from the tournament by Angelo State in which the turf — as opposed to a dirt infield that most softball games are played on — seemed to play a role.
“This past weekend we got hurt several times by balls that weren’t hit hard and it was just a matter of the turf,” Stidham said. “We’ve got to change our strategy a little bit. We’re going to work on putting more balls into the turf and hitting high hoppers ... and bunts, because the ball doesn’t bounce and roll on turf as it does on dirt.”
The Lady Buffs claimed the No. 1 seed in this week’s three-day South Central Regional and as such get to play host to the double-elimination tournament.
Stidham hopes that the Pioneers’ opponent in Friday’s opening round, Metro State, will have similar troubles adjusting to playing on an artificial turf as opposed to dirt.
“I think Metro State will be surprised — unless they play on turf,” she said.
The Roadrunners don’t, so they’ll also have to adjust to the unique experience of playing on turf.
Eight members of the Pioneers were named to the 2014 All-Lone Star Conference teams, including four selected to the first team: seniors Katie Hines, Brandie Lander and Bailey Vrazel and junior Kendra Sancet.
Earning second-team recognition were sophomore Tealey Farquhar and freshman Alyssa Galaz, while junior Sarah Wittenburg and freshman Katy Stephens were named to the third team.
Hines, who has started all 49 games this season as a designated hitter or pitcher, was named to the first team for the third consecutive season after earning honorable mention as a freshman. She has 11 home runs this season and holds the TWU career mark with 52.
For the second straight year, Lander has earned a first-team all-conference nod. Lander leads the LSC with 23 wins and is second in innings pitched (184 2/3), strikeouts (154) and opponent’s batting average (.226).
Vrazel and Sancet are also making repeat appearances on the all-conference team, with Vrazel claiming her fourth honor while Sancet earned the award for the third straight time.
Senior shortstop Bailey Vrazel and junior first baseman Kendra Sancet were named the 2014 Lone Star Conference Softball Co-Academic Players of the Year recently.
Also representing the Pioneers on the all-academic team was senior pitcher Brandie Lander.
Vrazel is a kinesiology major who holds a perfect 4.00 cumulative grade-point average. Sancet is a mathematics major with a 3.95 GPA.
To be eligible for the LSC academic honors, a student-athlete must carry at least a 3.30 GPA and have reached sophomore status both athletically and academically.
Vrazel, Sancet and Lander have also been selected to the 2014 Capital One Academic All-District first team as voted upon recently by members of the College Sports Information Directors of America.
CoSIDA, in conjunction with Capital One, selected Academic All-District and All-America teams in 12 athletic programs each year. To be eligible, athletes must have a 3.30 GPA in at least their second year of competition at the school and be a starter or key substitute.