Lipscomb spent the last two seasons on the outside looking in.
The Bisons hosted the Atlantic Sun Conference baseball tournament in both 2010 and 2011 but failed to qualify for the six-team field both times.
Still, players and coaches were involved. They served as the grounds crew at Ken Dugan Field.
“It was not enjoyable,” senior infielder Zak Messer recalls. “We basically sat up there and waited to do field work for other teams playing on our field in the conference tournament we wanted to be in. It was an eye opener for the guys that were coming back. We really didn’t want to have to experience that again.”
With two wins this weekend against rival Belmont, the Bisons can assure themselves a spot in the league tournament for the first time since 2009. However, they won’t have the luxury of playing on their home field this time. The tournament runs from May 23-26 in DeLand, Fla., the home of Stetson University.
Entering the final A-Sun series of the year, Lipscomb (25-26, 14-10) and Belmont (31-21, 14-10), which celebrated on its rival’s field last year after winning the league tournament, re-tied for third. The teams begin a three-game series at 5 p.m. on Thursday at Rose Park.
“For any conference in Division I college baseball, making your postseason tournament is the first step,” Lipscomb coach Jeff Forehand said. “You can’t do anything from that unless you’re one of the powerhouses in the SEC that might get an opportunity to move on. But even in years past it hasn’t happened that much for even those teams that make the SEC Tournament.”
The Bisons, who host non-conference foe Tennessee Tech on Tuesday, ride into the final weekend on a hot streak. They’ve won eight of 10, captured their last two conference series and most recently swept Jacksonville.
“Confidence is at all-time high since I’ve been here,” Messer said. “I know we have a new feeling among the team when we go out to the field on the weekends that we are going to win these games. In the past it was like, ‘I hope we play well today.’ ”
It’s a monumental improvement from not only the last two seasons but from this February. Lipscomb lost nine in a row and started the season 4-10.
“We felt like we hadn’t played up to our potential,” Forehand said. “We played a really tough non-conference schedule and I think we lost five one-run games and seven one- or two-run games. With a lot of new guys and new faces on this team we really hadn’t come into our stride yet.”
Led by ace Connor Sinclair (6-3, 2.95 ERA), pitching has sparked the turnaround. The Bisons lead the league in opposing batting average (.253) and rank third in strikeouts (388). At the plate, they’ve used balanced hitting to sink opponents with four players hitting above .300 and 10 with at least one home run.
Lipscomb, however, still hasn’t figured out how to win consistently on the road. The Bisons are 2-14 away from Ken Dugan Field as opposed to a 23-10 home record.
Exorcising those demons is pivotal in order to qualify and make a run in the league tournament.
“I really wish we were hosting this year,” Messer said. “Obviously, it’s not going to be here this year but we really want to have that feeling of playing in that conference tournament and coming out on top.”