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Lancers prep for Knoxville Regional

After winning its third straight Big South Tournament title in the familiar environs of Lancer Field last weekend, Longwood University’s softball team will compete in the NCAA Division I Softball Tournament in the familiar environment of Knoxville, Tennessee this weekend.

In 2013, 2015 and now this year, the Lancers have been part of the NCAA Knoxville Regional, hosted by the University of Tennessee.

Longwood Head Coach Kathy Riley said the familiar setting should be helpful, and senior pitcher Elizabeth “Biz” McCarthy confirmed this.

Competing in the regional are its No. 1 seed Tennessee (44-10), its No. 2 seed Ohio State University (35-16), its No. 3 seed University of South Carolina (USC) Upstate (44-11) and its No. 4 seed Longwood (28-27).

“It’s actually a pretty well-rounded regional,” Riley said. “I have a tremendous amount of respect for how good Ohio State is and USC Upstate. … I would consider it a strong regional as opposed to a weak one.”

This year, the Tennessee Volunteers are the national No. 8 seed, and the Lancers face them Friday at 7 p.m. in a game televised on ESPN2.

For fans unable to travel to Tennessee, the official watch party will take place at The Fishin’ Pig at 5169 Farmville Road.

Riley said the Volunteers will challenge Longwood with their speed.

“Tennessee’s always recruited speed,” she said. “It’s been one of the ways that they’ve been successful. So, for us, handling their short game with their lefties is going to be an item that’s important. Then the other one would be probably for us to pitch well. It’s the strength of our team, and I think we have to do it well for us to be successful. We have to really have a 1-0, 2-1, 3-2 game for Longwood to be able to come out with a win.”

Riley said the Lancers’ offense is not reaching all of its potential yet, though there has been improvement.

“We have started to see some people mature, like (Kaylynn) ‘Bug’ (Batten) has matured, Justina (Augustine’s) matured, Karleigh Donovan is starting to hit the way she’s capable of hitting,” the coach said. “Krista (Kelly’s) gotten better as well. So, I do feel like we’re starting to reach more of our potential, but some of those kids like Jordan (Clark) and Kasey (Carr) and Destiny (Martinez) are all in the beginning stages of becoming a really good Division I player.”

Riley said she and her staff are going to lean towards starting McCarthy against Tennessee.

“We’ve done some film work,” Riley said. “We’re going to do some more, and we just feel like she has late movement and she’s left-handed, and they have a fair amount of lefties in their lineup, so we just think if we can run the ball away from them a little bit more often, we’re probably better off.”

Understanding what the team needs from her and her fellow pitchers, McCarthy described her mindset as she approaches the task at hand.

“I definitely think it’s a mindset that we’ve built from day one this year,” she said. “Day one since I’ve ever been here, but especially this year, our main goal was to make it back to regionals, to make it to the regional championship, to go (further) than we did last year.”

The Lancers made it to the Harrisonburg Regional championship game last year, the furthest they had ever advanced in the NCAA tourney.

As usual, Longwood is guaranteed to play two games in the tournament this year, meaning it will also face either Ohio State or USC Upstate, and it could end up facing both.

“Upstate and Ohio State are different,” Riley said. As for how they find success, “I think Ohio State does it with a little bit more offense and Upstate does it with very, very good pitching.”