Pitching staff takes center stage for Pioneers
Moments after the celebrating had quieted down following Sunday’s South Central Regional victory, the first words from TWU coach Richie Bruister to the media were directed at his pitching coach and pitching staff.
They were well-earned compliments for a unit that has been rock solid all year long.
Last weekend, the Pioneers’ hurlers and assistant coach Sena Horne again teamed up to play a huge role in their three victories that earned them a berth in this weekend’s Super Regional series.
“It’s what I’ve said all year, that it all starts with our pitching,” said Bruister. “It gives us a chance to score with our offense. I love our pitching staff and our defense.”
The three-person staff — Brandie Lander, Larisa Garcia and Katie Hines — is a combined 49-10 this season. They’ve tossed six shutouts this season, including a 2-0 win last Sunday over St. Mary’s that capped a three-win South Central Regional title and berth to the next round of the NCAA playoffs.
Garcia was workhorse of the group, giving up one earned run and throwing six innings on Friday against Incarnate Word and coming back on Sunday for a two-hit shutout on Sunday.
On Saturday, Lander, the team’s leader in victories with 21, gave up just three hits to go with seven strikeouts to lead the Pioneers to a 7-1 win over Midwestern State.
With those two so strong in the circle, Bruister had no reason to call on Hines, who played as the designated hitter in all three games. She went 1-for-11 at the plate but made her one connection count by blasting a grand slam homer in Saturday’s win.
“Every time I pitch, coach Horne and I go through [the opponent’s] lineup, one through nine,” said Garcia. “She has a game plan, and I completely trust the pitches that are being called. She knows what’s going on — it’s my job to throw the balls for her. That’s how we work.”
Although TWU’s collective ERA (2.37) is impressive, it is not ranked among the top 50 in the country. Still, the Pioneer pitchers have shown the ability to get out of jams.
On Friday, Incarnate Word left eight runners on base during Garcia’s six innings of work while scoring only one run. On Sunday, Garcia worked her way out of a bases-loaded situation in the second inning, going on to pitch the complete game with five strikeouts.
“She kept them off balance and frustrated their hitters,” Bruister said of Sunday’s win. “Garcia was outstanding.”
The same could be said for Lander on Saturday. She went seven innings, allowed three hits and struck out seven. In the first inning, Midwestern State loaded the bases with two outs and the Mustangs were held scoreless. The next inning, MSU stranded two more runners in a scoreless inning.
Bruister’s nerves were tested in the top of the seventh when the Mustangs again loaded the bases with two outs. But a passed ball allowed Midwestern its lone run in the game before Lander struck out Kelley Schaefer to end it.
The Pioneers are familiar with this weekend’s super regional opponent, having won two of three games against St. Edward’s earlier this season.
TWU split its two games against the Hilltoppers in February at the St. Edward’s tournament, losing 3-2 in their opener before bouncing back with a 6-0 victory the next day.
In March, St. Edward’s played in TWU’s Best Western Premier Spring Fling tournament. The Pioneers came out on top in that meeting 7-3.
“Obviously, they’re a good team or they wouldn’t be playing us [this] weekend,” Bruister said of the 33-21 Hilltoppers. “We’ll look at our matchups and put our best team out there and go from there.”
St. Edward’s won last weekend’s South Central Regional 2 in Canyon by defeating No. 2 seed West Texas A&M 5-2, then knocking off sixth-seed Angelo State twice — 5-3 on Saturday and 12-4 in Sunday’s title game.
This weekend’s super regional at Pioneer Field is a best two-of-three series.
The teams open with a single game Friday (7 p.m.) followed by Game 2 on Saturday at 4:30 and a final game, if necessary, scheduled for 7 p.m.
Happy with format
Bruister likes the three-game series format for this weekend’s Super Regionals since it’s similar to nearly all of the three-game weekend series the Pioneers played during Lone Star Conference action this season.
“It’s the same thing — we’ve got to beat them two out of three,” he said. “Our conference prepares us for what we’re facing right now.”
It’s also nice that the Friday-Saturday scheduling gives both teams a week to prepare to play on the same days the LSC schedules it league series.
Home sweet home
Playing at home benefited the Pioneers last weekend and could be a plus for them this weekend at the super regional.
“It was nice to stay in our own beds and not be stuck in some hotel,” Bruister said. “It was nice to be able to do our normal routine and not be rushed. It was nice for our girls to be able to do the same things they’ve been doing all year. That’s played a huge role for us [last] weekend.
“We put on a great tournament,” he added. “The grounds crew did a great job. All of our event management staff worked tirelessly behind the scenes to make this tournament the best regional I’ve ever been a part of.”
This weekend’s super regional marks the first time TWU has reached this level of the playoffs.
Awards keep coming
Five members of the Pioneers were named to the National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA) All-Region teams, including three on first team and two earning second-team honors.
Pitchers Brandie Lander and Katie Hines along with infielder Kendra Sancet were voted to the first team, while infielders Bailey Vrazel and Jordan Readicker were selected to the second team.
It was the third straight year for Vrazel to be selected all-region and the second consecutive year for Hines to be named.
It is also the second time in Readicker’s career to be chosen all-region.
NFCA members in each of the eight Division II regions vote to select the all-region teams. All honorees are now eligible for selection to one of three NFCA Division II All-American teams.