A home team to root for

Published 11:49 am Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Exhibit A for Longwood University’s ability to compete in college athletics’ highest division is the Lancer softball team, which continues to set a standard for excellence in Coach Kathy Riley’s 19th season.

If you haven’t seen Riley’s team compete, head over to Lancer Field on Wednesday evening, when in-state foe Virginia Tech, ranked among the best teams in the mighty Atlantic Coast Conference, comes to Farmville for a doubleheader starting at 5 p.m.

As some of the elite teams in college softball can attest, the Hokies best bring their “A game” against Longwood, which backs down from no one on the softball diamond. The Lancers, ranked atop the Big South Conference standings, traveled to Auburn over the weekend and fought the nation’s second-ranked team to the final out in two of three games, losing twice by one run.

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Longwood softball’s 2016 success follows the school’s second NCAA Tournament berth last spring and the university’s first-ever win, in any sport, in an NCAA Division I tournament. It was a single play in the Lancers’ first-round game against Tennessee that caught my attention. Shortstop Emily Murphy, then a junior, laid out to snag a hard-hit groundball up the middle, then threw from her knees to get the Tennessee runner at first base. The defensive gem, as fine as any play you’ll see a big-league shortstop make, ranked among ESPN SportsCenter’s top 10 plays of the day. And snagged the Lancers a new fan in this Farmville newcomer.

Murphy is back this fall with a group of scrappy teammates who have the Lancers poised for another postseason run. In the classroom, the Lancers are just as impressive. Longwood’s softball program has had the highest Academic Progress Rate of any Big South Conference team for the past two seasons. (It would be four straight had Longwood been in the Big South the two seasons prior.)

College softball is a spectator’s delight, with fast-paced games that typically last two hours or less. Lancer Field offers the choice of a grandstand seat or a blanket on the grassy hill along Main Street behind the leftfield fence. Either way, you’ve got a great view of one of the best springtime experiences in Farmville: Longwood softball.

STEVE STEWART is publisher of The Farmville Herald. His email address is steve.stewart@farmvilleherald.com.