Lipscomb softball coach Kristin Ryman knew that the 2015 team was going to feel the loss of seven seniors who all played key roles for the Lady Bisons.
But the addition of three transfers is going to make those losses a little easier to bear. Ryman has announced the signings of catcher-first baseman Laura Dukes from Middle Tennessee, pitcher Kelly Young from Arkansas and middle infielder Baylee Williams from Chattanooga State.
“Our seniors meant so much to what we did this season,” Ryman said. “And really so much of what we did the last four years was built around that group.
“We knew were losing key pieces. All seven of our seniors played key roles this past season.”
The Lady Bisons earned Lipscomb’s first-ever at-large NCAA bid in any sport. They advanced to the finals in the Knoxville Regional, losing to host Tennessee 2-0. The Lady Bisons finished with a 41-15 record and a program record high 33rd ranking in the final RPI.
“We knew we were losing some power, leadership and experience,” Ryman said. “That was why we were looking at transfers and junior college players to go with our three incoming freshmen.
“Those six are going to mesh well personality-wise with our current players. But they are also all really good players.”
Dukes, 5-foot-10, has one year of eligibility left. She was named to the All-Conference USA First Team this past season after leading MTSU in batting (.362), hits (55), doubles (17), runs batted in (33), slugging percentage (.592), walks (34) and on-base percentage (.505). She was second on the team in home runs with six. She also won the Conference USA Spirit of Service Award and was a COSIDA Capital One All-District Academic First Team member.
“Laura is a tremendous home run-type hitter but she is also a tremendous doubles hitter,” Ryman said. “She gives us another lefty. It will be exciting to see her and Paige Neely in the lineup together giving us two lefty power-type hitters who are also high average types of hitters.
“We have never had that. We have had several lefties, but generally Paige has been our lefty power threat with the rest of them being slappers and speed kids. It will be fun to see what Laura will do here. She has proven that she can hit great pitching and has done it in a good conference. She has been a standout.”
First impressions mean a lot and Ryman thinks everyone is going to be impressed the first time they meet Dukes.
“They are going to know exactly why she is successful,” Ryman said. “It is because she goes about her business and goes to work. She is a blue-collar worker at the core. She is going to find a way to succeed at this level.”
She played in all 55 games last season, catching each game. Her walks and on-base percentage are single season records for MTSU.
Young will be a junior at Lipscomb this fall. The 5-10 right-hander appeared in 22 games last season, seven as a starter. Her 57.1 innings were the third highest total by an Arkansas pitcher during the 2014 season.
She posted a 4-5 record with a 5.74 earned run average. She struck out 43 batters and walked 33. Opposing batters hit .324 against her.
Young was 5-0 her freshman season and her 2.42 ERA was second lowest on the team. She made 12 appearances and threw 34.2 innings.
She is a two-time SEC Academic Honor Roll member.
“We are really excited about adding Kelly,” Ryman said. “We recruited her out of high school so we have known her for a long, long time.
“She is a hard thrower, but she can also throw the off speed stuff. We are excited about getting the chance to work with her.”
Young works in the offseason with pitching coach Rose Kalisak, who also coached former Lipscomb pitchers Whitney Kiihnl and Christen Campbell.
“She does a great job of developing pitchers, helping them master certain pitches and creating a confidence,” Ryman said. “We feel every attuned that the we way she teaches is the way we teach. That should make it an easier transition.”
The Lady Bisons said good-bye to a pair of starting pitchers – Ashley Anderson and Heather Parker. Junior Tanner Sanders returns along with sophomores Taylor Neuhart and McCarley Thomas.
“Kelly is a very, very smart person in general,” Ryman said. “She is a very smart player and a very smart pitcher.
“I think adding her two years of experience, not only at the NCAA Division I level but in the Southeastern Conference, will translate well to our program. She didn’t sit the bench for two years. She got game experience.”
Williams was a 2014 NFCA First Team All-American and a 2014 NJCAA Division I Second Team All-American. She was also a 2014 NJCAA First Team Region 7 selection. For two seasons she was also an NJCAA First Team Academic All-American.
Williams, 5-2, batted .412 and blasted 15 home runs. Her 32 doubles were first nationally in NJCAA Division I. She was sixth in total bases with 168 and seventh in RBI with 86. She scored 72 runs, 13th nationally.
Chattanooga State was one of the top three teams in the NJCAA Division I this season.
She could play either second or shortstop for the Lady Bisons. She will be a junior.
“She is small,” Ryman said. “She is someone you are going to look at and ask where the power comes from. She can definitely hit it out of the park. She was a doubles machine for Chattanooga State.
“Obviously, how that translates to this level will be determined. She is going to bring an offensive presence. It is exciting knowing she has that power potential.”