Pratt: Lady Toppers get passing grade in Tudor’s first year

Senior outfielder Kelise Mattox runs home after a passed throwing error by South Alabama during the first game of their double header Saturday. The Lady Toppers lost 3-2. (Ian Maule/HERALD)

Elliott Pratt

As finals week sneaks closer, I thought I’d hand out a grade of my own for a team that I was most intrigued to see if momentum would roll over from last year.

A coach doesn’t define the makeup of a good team, and a good team isn’t always defined by its coach, but Amy Tudor gets an “A” in my grade book for keeping this year’s Lady Topper softball team in good standings in the Sun Belt Conference after Tyra Perry’s departure in August.

Tudor came into a good situation with five returning All-Sun Belt players. Of course, Tudor brought her own hardware with a Summit League Tournament championship with IUPUI last year.

This team doesn’t have the same dominance as last season’s 43-18 team that won its first Sun Belt title and advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament against Alabama, but Tudor has done a nice job considering she stepped into the role left by the 2013 Sun Belt Coach of the Year.

While they’re tied for third in the league with a 10-8 Sun Belt record, 31-20-1 overall, they’re in a position where wins and losses don’t matter so much as it relates to conference tournament seeding.

The biggest concern for Tudor before the conference tournament in Lafayette, La., May 7-10 is making a consistent coherent performance out of her team.

“I think we just have to get all aspects of our game rolling, and that’s the main concern for me that no matter who we’re playing, it doesn’t matter,” Tudor said. “We’ve played everyone in the conference and we’ve proven we can hit everyone in the conference and that’s what we have to do.

“We have the talent, that’s what we have to put together.”

Tudor came into the job inheriting a team that knows how to put those pieces together, letting last season’s performance serve as evidence for such performances.

But instead of living in the past, let this year serve that they are still growing and adjusting to a new coaching staff. The Lady Toppers have four games remaining in the regular season to fit all those pieces back together.

Senior Kelsie Mattox knows what it takes, and knows that how they finish the regular season isn’t indicative to how they follow up the run this team made last year.

“You can’t win if you don’t hit, and you can’t win if you don’t pitch,” Mattox said. “We have to work hard to do that. We’re kind of old, kind of young so it’s a mix, but we have to learn how to put it all together.

“This year we’re not having as quite a good of year as we want to. The tell tale sign will be conference tournament and if we’re able to pull that off and go to the next step to really say that we’ve gotten better or that we’re building.”

Right now this team is recovering from having dropped six straight against some of the best consecutive competition they’ve had all year with Kentucky, Lipscomb and South Alabama.

Conference tournament seeding isn’t an issue, so how (or if) they improve in these last four games will set the tone for whether they can match last year’s grade in the Sun Belt tournament.

A better grade is advancing once again to the NCAA Regionals. They’ll have to do a lot of  studying if they want to reach that point again under a new teacher.