Big South comes to town

Published 9:58 am Thursday, May 4, 2017

Longwood University’s softball team is surging at the perfect time to help take excitement to the next level for the school’s and Farmville’s first-time “guest” next week.

The Big South Softball Championship will make its inaugural stop in Farmville at Longwood next week, starting Wednesday and running through Sunday. The event, a double-elimination tournament involving at least 10 games, will feature the top six teams in the Big South Conference. This will include the Lancers, who are the reigning tournament champions and have claimed the title three out of the last four years.

The Lancers (24-26, 13-8 in the Big South) were the preseason favorite to win this year, as picked by the eight head coaches in the conference, but it has been a challenging year.

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They started the season 7-14. Then, after having won 27 out of 32 Big South three-game regular season sets since entering the league, they dropped three out of their first four this year.

But the Lancers turned things around in the last nine days of their regular season, winning a series against host Liberty University, the top-ranked team in the Big South, and sweeping host Radford University in another Big South trilogy.

“When you win (eight) out of your last (nine) games, I don’t know that you could be anything but excited and happy with how they performed,” Longwood Head Coach Kathy Riley said of her players.

Looking back on the 2016-17 regular season overall, Riley said she still considers it a difficult one, despite the strong finish, noting “we went through a lot of challenges in terms of type of play during the early season and in the fall. I think we learned a lot about the process and how to approach things correctly, not only the players but the coaches as well. I think if we’d have maybe done some things differently in the fall, we probably would have made progress more quickly.”

She acknowledged graduation had an impact, claiming some key senior talent from the squad, but added that the team’s finish this year showed it was quite capable of winning the Big South regular season title again if it had played well early.

Riley said a point of focus in preparation for next week’s event has been the team’s mental approach “in terms of making sure that players who are new to the experience understand that you have to be calm and you have to be confident in your approach when you go to the tournament because there’s going to be a lot of close games.”

She also pointed out that everybody makes good plays given the elevated motivation.

“What sometimes is a hit during the season is not a hit during the postseason, because kids are willing to dive and do everything they possibly can to help their team, and so in those situations, again, you just have to maintain your composure,” she said.

That only the top six teams in the Big South will be competing in the tournament is a significant change from the past. The top two seeds will also have a different path than before.

“What we did is we gave more credit to the (teams) that finished first and second this year than we have in the past, so they have (a) much easier road to get to the finals than the others, but we felt like that that’s a part of the reward for having a consistently good regular season,” Riley said.

The No. 1 and No. 2 teams will have a first-round bye, automatically advancing them to the quarterfinals.

Holding the No. 3 seed, the Lancers are set to begin play in the tournament Wednesday at 2:30 p.m. against the No. 6 seed, which will be determined as other teams in the conference wrap up their regular season schedules this weekend.

The starting lineup Longwood has gone with for the last two weeks has been as follows: sophomore Kaylynn Batten at catcher, freshman Kasey Carr at first base, freshman Destiny Martinez at second base, senior Justina Augustine at shortstop, junior Krista Kelly at third base, junior Glenn Walters in left field, sophomore Jordan Clark in center field and sophomore Jessica Smith in right field.

Riley said her starting pitcher Wednesday will be determined based on who she and her staff think will match up the best against the opponent in question, and she complimented the abilities of both of Longwood’s top pitchers — senior Elizabeth McCarthy and sophomore Sydney Gay.

Acknowledging that playing host to the Big South Softball Championship will be different, Riley said, “I don’t know all that it’s going to bring, but this year especially, I’m really happy to be playing at home and not getting on the road, and while sometimes I think the road can be less distracting, I think for us this year, it’s actually a perfect situation … I think we’ll be comfortable at home, and I think the atmosphere of people being here and rooting for us is going to be a plus.”

For the tournament, tickets are available online for single-day sessions ($10 each) or all-session passes ($25 each). Students, with their ID, and children, ages 5 and younger, will be given free admission.

In-game acts and promotions will include the Big South mascots on Wednesday, the K9 Crew Frisbee Dogs on Thursday, a fireworks show Friday and the Heartland Heat Cheerleaders on Championship Saturday.

For more information about the tournament, visit

Click here to view the bracket.