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Softball: Pioneers begin play today in regional

Profile image for By Patrick Hayslip / Staff Writer
By Patrick Hayslip / Staff Writer

In TWU’s opening game of the NCAA Division II national tournament last season against Humboldt State, Kendra Sancet had a hit that could have swung momentum in the Pioneers’ favor.

Sancet remembers connecting on a pitch in the sixth inning that would have given the Pioneers a 4-3 lead if it had gone for a home run, but inward-gusting winds dropped her shot just inches below the top of the right-center field wall. Because of a base running error, the hit went for one of the longest singles TWU had all season.

Not concerning herself with the specifics of games any more than wins or loses, Sancet typically doesn’t remember details. But that deep single still sits with her.

“I didn’t really care that it went down as a single or double or whatever,” Sancet said. “I just wanted the RBI. It’s a pretty sore spot. I don’t think about past games that much, so nothing really sits bad with me, but I do remember that play. One thing that coach [Genny] Stidham does go over a lot are those situations.”

With last season’s gaffes in the past, the Pioneers have been preparing all week for the double-elimination South Central Region tournament held at West Texas A&M’s Schaeffer Park in Canyon. They’ve had extra focus on the defensive intangibles of the game, taking 100 short-hop grounders and 100 backhand grounders per day, despite Stidham’s offensive outlook.

“I’ve had people tell me over the years that defense wins ballgames, and that’s not really my philosophy,” Stidham said. “You try to practice for everything and you try to give examples for what could happen, but I think the more prepared they are and they realize they have options and don’t get uptight, the better off they are. That’s what we’ve been trying to do for the last month. You just plan for everything, and hopefully you don’t get beat on something you haven’t practiced.”

After defeating Tarleton State 5-4 on the shoulders of Alyssa Galaz’s fifth-inning three-run homer in the opening game of the Lone Star Conference tournament, the Pioneers were eliminated by Angelo State, 18-5 in five innings.

Qualifying for the NCAA regional for the sixth time and for the third consecutive season, the Pioneers (34-17) earned the No. 4 seed and will face No. 5 seed Metropolitan State University of Denver (32-15) at 4 p.m. today.

After the obstacle course of the LSC schedule, Sancet and the Pioneers are looking forward to facing a different opponent.

“I’m super excited to not play someone in our conference,” Sancet said. “The Lone Star Conference, there are so many times that we play each other and most teams only have two to three pitchers. You’re going to win some and you’re going to lose some. We need some fresh players to play against.”

Stidham, who said she would like the LSC to schedule shorter series, was looking forward to the regional tournament, where even if the Pioneers fall into the losers bracket, they’ll only have to play one game each day.

Regardless of the format, she said she expects her team to be more focused because the Pioneers know it’s the time of the year they need to raise their game.

“I think I’ll see that motivation more this weekend,” Stidham said. “It’s hard to get motivated because you play those [LSC] teams so often. It’s just not the same type of game. [Regionals] will definitely have an impact for us because we are so low in [roster] numbers. ... One game a day — that’s a huge benefit.”

PATRICK HAYSLIP can be reached at 940-566-6873 and via Twitter at @PatrickHayslip.