Two of Nation’s Top Aces Meet in Music City

Friday, March 26, 2010

MACON, Ga. – The Atlantic Sun Softball Series of the Week features a duel between two of the nation’s top pitchers, as Whitney Kiihnl and Lipscomb hosts Morgan Childers and USC Upstate, in a doubleheader beginning at 2:00 p.m. CT Saturday in Nashville, Tenn.

Last season, the Lady Bisons swept the doubleheader with the Spartans in the A-Sun Series of the Week by marks of 9-1 and 3-0 in Spartanburg, S.C. For Lipscomb, Kiihnl pitched a complete game in game one, as the then-freshman scattered three hits while striking out eight.

Read the Atlantic Sun Insider Column associated with this game here.

“Last year was not fun for us for the fact that we got bullied in our own place,” USC Upstate Head Coach Chris Hawkins said. “They hit really well and they played defense well because they are an extremely good team. What’s turned from last year is that we were predicted to win the conference. We had X’s on our backs and we were not mature enough or old enough to handle it. It’s a little different this year as they have the X’s on their backs, so we have nothing to lose. You’d be surprised at what that does to the game and to the outcome if you do not concentrate at the task at hand. If you just get caught up and who you’re playing other than what you are trying to do to win.”

Lipscomb enters the weekend with one of the conference’s top records at 20-7. The Lady Bisons have already defeated a ranked team in then-No. 12 California and have gained votes in top 25 polls for several weeks.

“I think we feel really good about where we are going into conference play,” Lipscomb head coach Kristin Ryman said. “We know that we are going to be challenged every time out and we feel good after our trip to Hawaii and how we were challenged there. We only went 1-5. Our one win was a huge win and I felt like by the end of the week we got better and we really learned a lot about our team and ourselves. I just feel that much more confident going into conference play now.”

In its first season of postseason eligibility at the Division I level, USC Upstate looks to make a statement during league play, having already tallied an outstanding 17-4 record against non-conference op­ponents.

“It gave us a routine and it enabled to find us what other pitcher we can put with Morgan,” Hawkins said. “It also enabled us to get some other people some looks and to see and solidify some of the positions to go into it. It is not like if you win one then you have to win another one and then you have to win another one. It is not a building process anymore. Whatever we have is built. We have to try to do the best we can with it now.”

The meeting Saturday features Lipscomb, the league’s leader in batting average (.315), slugging percentage (.469), runs scored (146) and hits (229). Led by Kiihnl, the team limits opponents to a .152 batting average.

“The first year I played them, we battled pretty hard,” Childers said. “Lipscomb is a great team, they have some great ballplayers and Whitney is a great pitcher, I really enjoy watching her pitch. I’m just excited to play a great team. Whatever happens, happens. We have just got to go out and have fun.”

USC Upstate enters league play leading with a 1.50 ERA. Childers tops the nation with 13.5 strikeouts per game and ranks second with a 0.42 ERA and 2.15 hits allowed per game. The junior also ranks ninth in strikeouts, 16th in wins and 19th in shutouts.

“I was in shock, I had no idea that I was even close to being ranked that high,” Childers said. “I have no words. I’m just shocked. My dad was at work and I called him and said, ‘Dad, I’m nationally ranked!’”

For Lipscomb, Kiihnl tops the Lady Bisons in the circle with a 14-2 record, 0.87 ERA and 155 strikeouts on the year.

“We are a family and basically, our philosophy is just do our best and let God do the rest,” Kiihnl said. “I’m going to have bad games, but life will go on. Of course we want to do well. We have faced some really good pitching and some really good hitters. We have good teams in our conference, but I think as far as getting us prepared for conference play, facing good teams on an everyday level will bring our level of play to the next level.”

The A-Sun pitching duo of Kiihnl and Childers also rank first and second in the NCAA in fewest hits allowed per seven innings. With such top performers on each team, expect a duel at Draper Diamond.

“I definitely think they are going to be going head-to-head, likely you are going to be seeing a pitchers’ duel,” Ryman said. “Both teams offensively are trying to adjust of any tiny mistake that the other team makes. When you are going up against teams that are as good or better than you, any tiny mistake opens the door and gives them that extra opportunity. Likely, you could see a game where it is a pitchers’ duel and whoever finds a way to score, whether it be through a through a walk or an error or something like whoever can string a couple of hits together at the right time, is going to be who comes out on top.”

“I’m thinking our bench, our busdrivers,” Hawkins said. “I’m thinking everybody is needed to take them down. I don’t know what we’re what we’re going to do, but we’re going to try!”

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The Atlantic Sun Conference is an 11-member league committed to Building Winners for Life. The A-Sun stands for achievement with integrity in both the academic and athletic arenas, with a focus on the balance between the two for our student-athletes. Headquartered in Macon, Ga., the A-Sun boasts six of the top eight media markets in the Southeast. The A-Sun includes a blend of the most prestigious and dynamic private and public institutions in the region: Belmont University, Campbell University, East Tennessee State University, Florida Gulf Coast University, Jacksonville University, Kennesaw State University, Lipscomb University, Mercer University, University of North Florida, University of South Carolina Upstate and Stetson University.