NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Saturday's doubleheader with Lipscomb has plenty of on-the-field significance for both teams in terms of bragging rights and conference standings, but the games will carry additional off-the-field meaning as the teams come together to fight breast cancer in the first annual Battle of the Boulevard: Pink Edition games for breast cancer awareness. The first game is scheduled for 12 p.m.
Belmont (8-27, 3-5) and Lipscomb (25-13, 3-5) both need wins to stay alive in a crowded Atlantic Sun conference race, so the games themselves are critical for each team's post season aspirations. It is also the final time the two teams will meet as conference opponents with Belmont's exit to the Ohio Valley Conference next season. With crucial road swings coming up for both teams, the games in Nashville also provide one of the final chances for both teams to play in front of friendly crowds. Added to all of that intrigue on Saturday are several activities to help raise breast cancer awareness in what both teams are hoping will become an annual tradition.
At a Glance: Belmont
Belmont comes off a close 0-3 loss to Western Kentucky in a midweek non-conference game. A solo home run in the top of the sixth for WKU broke a 0-0 stalemate, and the Toppers added two runs in the top of the seventh to reach the final margin. It was the third straight loss for the Bruins at home, as Belmont was swept by Florida Gulf Coast in a conference doubleheader last Saturday.
At a Glance: Lipscomb
Lipscomb enters Saturday's contest fresh off a sweep of Austin Peay in their midweek non-conference series. Like Belmont, the Lady Bisons are 3-5 in Atlantic Sun conference play after splitting with FGCU and being swept by Stetson last weekend. On the season, Lipscomb is 25-13 and has appeared in the Mid-Major poll. Lipscomb is paced offensively by Kelsey Cartwright with a .359 batting average and 11 home runs, which ranks third in the conference. Joining Cartwright on the all-conference watch-list is Caroline Mason, who posts a .333 batting average and 20 RBIs on the season. Leading the way defensively is 2010 A-Sun Pitcher of the Year and a preseason all-conference selection, Whitney Kiihnl. Kiinhl leads Lipscomb with a 1.48 ERA, which is second in the conference. She leads the conference in innings pitched at 170.0 and has recorded six shutouts, two saves, and 169 strikeouts.
It's a Sweep!!
Belmont swept Stetson in dramatic fashion on April 6th, giving the Bruins their first conference sweep since 2009 when the team swept Kennesaw State. It was only the third conference sweep since Belmont joined the Atlantic Sun (Jacksonville, 2005; Kennesaw State 2009). The series sweep was the second of the season for Belmont, who previously swept Alabama A&M in a three game series at Rose Park back in March. The Bruins won game on of the doubleheader by a comfortable 6-2 margin, but the game was much closer than the score indicated. With bases loaded in the bottom of the fourth inning, Stetson intentionally walked sophomore catcher Kim Johnson to bring up sophomore pitcher Mia Vierra with the bases loaded and one out. With a force out at every base, Belmont needed a ball out of the infield to have a chance to score and cut into Stetson's 0-2 lead. Vierra delivered, sending a ball over the centerfield fence for the grand slam home run. It was the second home run of her career and gave Belmont a 5-2 lead. The next batter to the plate for the Bruins was sophomore Courtney Elrod, the only other active player to have recorded a grand slam home run. With the bases cleared, there would be no second career grand slam for Elrod, but she added to the scoring with a solo home run of her own, crushing a ball over the fence in right center and giving Belmont a 6-2 lead. The Bruins would hold in the sixth and seventh and take the win in game one.
While game one was full of offense, game two was a defensive battle. Stetson scored one run early and it looked like the single score would be enough as the Hatters held Belmont scoreless through six innings. Again, it was Vierra who came up clutch for the Bruins. The sophomore took over in the circle for junior Becca Gift in the bottom of the sixth inning with the bases loaded and one out. Vierra recorded a ground out and a strike out to get out of the inning without surrendering additional runs, but it would be her offensive heroics again that would deliver the win for the Bruins. After Gift recorded a lead-off single in the top of the seventh, Belmont had the tying run on first base with no outs. Senior Devon Schmidt pinch ran for Gift and advanced to second on a groundout by sophomore Heather Turner. The Bruins got a break when a sharply hit ball from Johnson resulted in a throwing error by the Stetson shortstop, who sent the ball out of play, allowing Schmidt to score and Johnson to advance to second. Freshman Kirbie Ferrell came on to run for Johnson as the winning run on second base. Ferrell advanced to third on a wild pitch, putting herself in even better scoring position. Vierra again stepped to the plate with a chance to give Belmont the win, which she did with an RBI single, giving the Bruins the win and the sweep. For her play against Stetson, Vierra became the first Bruin of the season and only the fifth all-time to earn Atlantic Sun Player of the Week honors.
Byers Going Down in History
Senior Ashley Byers has been the offensive leader for Belmont for the past three seasons, but in 2012, she has become one of the best in the Atlantic Sun and solidfied her place as one of the top players in school history. In 2010, Byers set a new school record for home runs in a single-season with 10. She added nine in 2011 to become the all-time career leader with 19. Byers has six so far in 2012, including back-to-back shots against Florida Gulf Coast. The senior from Westerville, Ohio, is batting .349 this season, which is ninth in the conference and tops on the team. Byers also leads in hits (30), RBIs (19), fielding percentage (.984) and is poised to become the first Bruin since 2008 to earn All-Conference honors (not including All-Freshman honors).
Byers will look to lead the Bruins to wins over Lipscomb on Saturday and give Belmont a leg up in the conference race heading into a road trip at league-leading Kennesaw State and Mercer next weekend. The Bruins are 9-24 all-time against Lipscomb, but split the series with the Lady Bisons last season. In addition to a strong performance from Byers, the Bruins will look to sophomore pitcher Mia Vierra and junior pitcher Becca Gift in the circle as well as solid defensive performances in the field. Offensively, Belmont will need a strong outing from the top of the lineup down, especially from freshman Heather Turner, who is second only to Byers in hits, and from senior Hannah Irwin, who leads the team in walks and has been one of the Bruins' most consistent players all season long.
The first game Saturday is scheduled to begin at 12 p.m. at Rose Park with the second game following at 2 p.m. Both games will be broadcast on ASun.TV, with links to the video and play-by-play broadcast available at www.belmontbruins.com. Also available are links to live stats, schedule updates, full recaps, game notes, box scores and season statistics. Fans can also follow the team on Twitter by searching @BelmontSoftball.