Whitney Kiihnl was succinct in her assessment of Alabama-Birmingham, Lipscomb’s first-round opponent in the NCAA softball tournament.
“We know we can beat them,” the sophomore pitcher said.
It was not an idle boast. Instead, it was a statement of fact.
The Lady Bisons split a doubleheader with UAB back on April 20. Lipscomb won the first 1-0 as Kiihnl threw a no-hitter, one of a school-record 29 this season.
So it is that they will face a familiar opponent in their first-ever NCAA tournament appearance when they begin play Friday.
Lipscomb (48-11) is the No. 3 seed in a regional topped by Southeastern Conference champion Alabama (48-9), the No. 1 overall seed in the field. UAB (36-20) is the second seed. The final team in that group is Alcorn State (24-24).
The Lady Bisons earned their spot Saturday when they won the Atlantic Sun Conference tournament. That made them one of 30 automatic qualifiers in the 64-team NCAA field.
They also won the regular-season conference title with an 18-2 record, and their 48 victories this season are the most in the program’s Division I era, one short of the all-time mark.
“Number-one, not being a No. 4 seed is exciting,” coach Kristin Ryman said. “We’ve earned the right to be a higher seed. And to have our first opponent be someone we know is going to take away a lot of the anxiety and uncertainty of the moment.”
Lipscomb and UAB originally were scheduled to play Feb. 16 at Draper Diamond on Lipscomb’s campus but were rained out. Ryman decided late in the season to reschedule those games, and now more than ever that seems like a wise move.
The second half of that doubleheader went to UAB 7-5.
It was the Lady Bisons’ only defeat in a 13-game stretch before they fell 3-2 to USC Upstate in the second game of the conference tournament. They came back from that latest loss won three games in the next two days by a combined 25-1 score capped by an 11-0 triumph the next time they got crack at USC Upstate – in Saturday’s title.
Now they get another shot at UAB.
“I’m really excited,” senior Kellie Sirus, the A-Sun tournament’s most valuable player, said. “It’s such a great feeling to be in the tournament.”