LMU not finished checking off accomplishments with SAC Softball Championship up next

Published 3:18 pm Friday, April 26, 2019

SALISBURY, N.C. — The Lady Railsplitters never shied away; not even the slightest bit.

When the Lincoln Memorial University softball team defeated Catawba in game one of its doubleheader Monday while Newberry lost its at the hands of Carson-Newman, the Lady Railsplitters knew they could at least share a piece of the South Atlantic Conference regular-season title.

LMU was also aware of what was at stake heading into that final game versus the Indians — with another win and a Newberry loss, the team picked eighth in the SAC preseason poll would be outright champions for the first time ever.

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The Lady Railsplitters took care of what they could control, and then that’s exactly what happened as all the pieces fell right into place.

“I’ve wanted all along just for them to accomplish it,” LMU head coach and recently named SAC Coach of the Year Ritchie Richardson said. “I wanted them to get rings. I wanted them to get championships, and I was just elated for them to accomplish something. We knew when we won one game, after Newberry had lost its first one, that we had a shot at winning outright.

“Then we knew we could do no worse than a tie by sweeping, so I think in coaching what I like is I love watching the players just have a great time, celebrate and have those kinds of moments you hope to have as a player. It’s nice watching them try to dog pile after the game and just jump around for joy. That’s always cool.”

Those surreal moments and accomplishments are just the beginning as the Lady Railsplitters (34-12) enter the SAC Softball Championship in front of everyone at No. 1. It’s LMU’s best SAC Tournament seeding since 2008 when the Lady Railsplitters entered as the fourth seed.

LMU’s first test is against eight-time SAC Tournament champion and No. 8-seeded Lenoir-Rhyne at 11:30 a.m. Saturday back at the place the Lady Railsplitters secured their first-ever SAC championship in Salisbury, N.C. at Whitley Softball Field.

Lenoir-Rhyne’s seeding tells any spectator everything he or she needs to know about the competition within the SAC. When L-R (26-18) came into Dorothy Neely Field April 13, the Bears were sitting comfortably in the No. 1 spot until they weren’t.

The Lady Railsplitters’ strong finish started that Saturday when they took down the Bears in sweep fashion for the first time in program history, all while securing LMU’s first 30-win season since 2013 and beginning a strong finish to a historic season as it won the last five of six games to take the No. 1 spot.

Meanwhile, L-R lost its last five of six games to fall all the way to the No. 8 seed, barely making the single-elimination SAC Softball Championship that hasn’t featured the Lady Railsplitters the past two seasons.

Some would say the Lady Railsplitters’ draw of L-R — a team LMU has had the difficulty of beating until the sweep earlier in April — is a tough one. That “some” doesn’t include Richardson.

“Really didn’t care who we played,” said the second-year head coach, who secured his 1,000th victory versus the Bears. “One thing is evident in the conference this year is that anybody can beat anybody. I was really wasn’t concerned about L-R or Coker or any team. I’ve always thought going into any tournament — I guess I’ve never been a coach who is always with the thinking, ‘Well, it’s all about the seed. We got a bad draw; we got a good draw.’ If you are concerned about winning any tournament, you’ve got to beat everybody and that’s always my concern.

“Give us the No. 1 team right off the bat and if we beat that team, we’ll be in control of the tournament. That’s the way I look at it. I learned that from playing fast pitch softball. If you want to win the tournament, give us the best, we’ve got to beat them anyway. I like our chances against anybody we play.”

The No. 24-ranked Lady Railsplitters, who sit at No. 2 in the Southeast Region with the chance to host the NCAA Softball Regional, have beaten the odds all season long. With winning its first SAC regular-season championship, LMU has taken its approach of taking care of the process and not focusing on the winning aspect.

It’ll be the same mindset for the Lady Railsplitters, except they will not be the underdog anymore. That’s the perception, however.

“Preparing a team is difficult for something like this and we are a young team,” Richardson said. “I think we can win it, but it’s always better to be the underdog so somehow you find a way to be the underdog, even though you’re the top seed. For us, it’s just about accomplishment. We probably won’t focus on the fact that we are the No. 1 seed and we are supposed to win. It’ll just be, ‘Hey, we’ve trying to accomplish things here.’ I think that’s just where approach comes in.

“We don’t talk about winning. We talk about trying to play well and take care of the process — that’s been our thing all year. To win, you have to do several things well and take care of that. Winning is a byproduct to doing those things well.”