With the No. 15 Pioneers facing six games over a seven-day stretch that began Tuesday, they will need more of the quality that was on display when TWU won two of three from Angelo State last weekend.
“I think it all came down to mental toughness,” coach Richie Bruister said. “That and just playing together as a team. Everybody is hurting at this point of the season. You can’t complain. You just have to go out and do it.”
TWU (36-10, 14-4 Lone Star) claimed a 6-1 victory Friday and split a Saturday doubleheader, dropping the opener 9-7 in extra innings and then capturing an 8-4 win.
Contributions to the two victories came from up and down the lineup. In Friday’s action, Bailey Vrazel and Amanda Ruiz drove in two runs apiece while Kendra Sancet added an RBI double.
Katie Hines and Brandie Lander worked the circle, with Lander pitching four innings of relief and allowing just one hit in picking up her 15th win.
On Saturday, a two-run homer in the top of the eighth inning provided the Rambelles with the winning edge in the opener. In the series finale, Jordan Readicker, Vrazel, Ruiz and Ashley Maddox knocked in runs while Lander once again came on in relief and struck out four in registering her 16th win.
Following their six games in seven days, the Pioneers, who entered Tuesday with a one-game lead in the conference standings, will close out the regular season with a key series at home against second-place West Texas A&M.
“We’ve got a lot of games left and nothing’s going to be handed to us,” Bruister said. “There are great teams ahead that we’ve got to try to beat. We’ve just got to go on the road and hope for the best.”
A scheduling quirk has the Pioneers beginning a three-game series at Tarleton State this week that won’t be completed for seven days.
Usually the Lone Star Conference schedules three-game series on back-to-back days over a weekend. However, to avoid having teams open LSC play in February, each team plays one conference opponent in split scheduling.
The Pioneers faced the TexAnns in a doubleheader on Tuesday night and will wrap up the series by hosting Tarleton for a single game next Tuesday.
“They break up a rivalry series with, essentially, your closest competition,” Bruister said. “They do that so you don’t play a weekend in February.”
The Pioneers will travel to San Antonio to play Incarnate Word in a three-game series Friday and Saturday before returning home to play Tarleton.
It was a bittersweet conclusion to the season for the Pioneers, who received a disappointing runner-up finish at the USA Gymnastics national meet for the fourth consecutive year but made school history in the individual event finals.
The record setters were Kristin Edwards, Bethany Larimer and Amy Winczura, who shared national championship honors on vault to mark the first time for a trio of TWU gymnasts to tie for first place in an event.
“It was absolutely incredible what they accomplished,” second-year head coach Lisa Bowerman said. “It was amazing that they ended up in a tie.”
Larimer also captured a gold medal on balance beam by finishing in a tie with Rachel Zabawa of Lindenwood with a score of 9.875.
Three other Pioneers finished in the top 10 in their events. Stephanie Repp earned a share of third on floor exercise with a career-best 9.850. Spencer Jones finished fifth on bars, tied for seventh on floor and was ninth on beam, and Ciara Maradiago tied for 10th on beam.
On Saturday, the Pioneers competed in the team finals and had to settle for a fourth straight second-place finish behind Bridgeport, which captured its fifth consecutive USAG title. On Friday, Jones placed fourth in all-around.
“The first part of the season didn’t go as we had hoped and planned, with injuries and new events and routines,” Bowerman said. “Our depth really suffered on every event. Our consistency wasn’t what we wanted.
“But by the end of the season, the team showed a lot of fight and character,” she said. “They never gave up. They kept working hard, and we definitely peaked at the end of the year.”
Four seniors could return
There were five seniors on the Pioneers’ roster this season, but four of them will be able to return next year to complete their college eligibility.
Due to injuries that interrupted their careers and forced them to sit out a season, Brittainy Johnson, Brittany Montalbano and Winczura each have one year of eligibility remaining. Also back will be Larimer, who attended Kentucky for a year without competing before transferring to TWU.
Edwards is the only senior who has completed her TWU career.
“For them to have one year of eligibility left, it’s going to be very exciting to have them all back next year,” Bowerman said.