OVC names Richmond co-coach of year

Thursday, May 7, 2009
Southeast Missouri State's Jennifer Vasquez earned a spot on the all-Ohio Valley Conference second team. (Fred Lynch)

The Redhawks open the conference tournament today.

Southeast Missouri State's bounceback softball season netted Lana Richmond a major honor.

Richmond was named the Ohio Valley Conference co-coach of the year Wednesday.

The league announced its postseason awards on the eve of the conference tournament in Jacksonville, Ala. Voting was done by the OVC's coaches and sports information directors.

"Like I've always said, I haven't scored a run for this team," Richmond said. "It's all about the athletes."

Southeast Missouri State freshman pitcher Giana Zimmerman earned a spot on the all-Ohio Valley Conference second team and newcomers team. (Fred Lynch)

Southeast finished second in the nine-team OVC after not qualifying for the six-team conference tournament the past two years. The Redhawks were picked seventh in the OVC preseason poll.

The Redhawks ended the regular season with a 15-game winning streak, third-longest in school history.

Richmond, the winningest softball coach in OVC history with nearly 800 victories, shared coach of the year honors with Jana McGinnis of OVC champion Jacksonville State.

It was Richmond's fifth OVC coach of the year award, but her first since 1998.

"I appreciate what my peers thought of me," said Richmond, who added with a laugh: "The team won in spite of me."

Despite Southeast's strong season, the Redhawks had no players voted to the all-OVC first team, although they did have four second-team selections.

"The way I look at it, we've got a young team where nobody really stands out," Richmond said. "But we've got a lot of kids one through nine that can hurt you.

"You can't put your finger on one outstanding player. They just all came to the forefront. We've got a lot of up and coming players."

Freshman pitcher Giana Zimmerman, sophomore shortstop Nicole Troncoso, junior catcher Alex Ramirez and junior left fielder Jennifer Vasquez are Southeast's members of the all-OVC second team.

Zimmerman and Troncoso also were voted to the league's all-newcomer team.

"They're all very deserving," Richmond said.

Zimmerman is 17-8 with a 2.60 ERA and has won 10 straight decisions.

She has completed 20 of her 24 starts and her 168 strikeouts rank second in program single-season history.

"She's had a great freshman year," Richmond said. "She's done it game by game for us."

Troncoso leads Southeast with a .336 batting average. The transfer from Boston College also played first base and second base in her rookie season with the Redhawks.

"She's been a great surprise for us," Richmond said. "We knew she was a great defensive player, but she really worked on her hitting and has had an outstanding season for us."

Ramirez is hitting .328, second on the squad. She leads Southeast in home runs with six, RBIs with 27 and walks with 29, while catching every inning.

"She's been really consistent for us behind the plate and offensively," Richmond said.

Vasquez is batting .260 overall, but has Southeast's top average in conference play at .356. She leads Southeast with two triples, while ranking second with 23 RBIs and 20 walks.

"She has been on a tear," Richmond said.

Jacksonville State swept the top individual honors as Nikki Prier was voted OVC player of the year and teammate Karla Pittman was named pitcher of the year.

Prier ranks first in seven OVC statistical categories, including batting average (.434), doubles (20) and RBIs (49). She is second in home runs (12).

Pittman leads the league with a 1.21 ERA and is second with six shutouts.

Tennessee-Martin's Jenny Bain beat out Zimmerman for OVC freshman of the year. Bain leads the league with 13 homers and is hitting .341.

Eyes on tournament

Now the Redhawks will set their sights on winning the OVC tournament and earning the league's automatic NCAA berth, which Southeast has not accomplished since 1999.

The second-seeded Redhawks (27-19, 16-8) earned a first-round bye.

Southeast will play either third-seeded Morehead State (34-18, 15-9) or sixth-seeded Eastern Illinois (25-27, 9-14) at 3 p.m. today.

A win sends the Redhawks into Friday's 3 p.m. winner's bracket final of the double-elimination event, while a loss means Southeast would play at 10 a.m. Friday.

Host Jacksonville State (38-11, 19-2), the top seed, is the heavy favorite after rolling to its second straight OVC regular-season championship.

JSU, which also captured last year's OVC tournament crown, swept a three-game series from Southeast by a combined 32-2, with all three contests ending early on the run rule.

But that was during Southeast's 11-game losing streak. The Redhawks have not tasted defeat since April 10 as they enter the tournament with plenty of confidence.

"We're going in on a roll and with a lot of confidence," Richmond said.

As for today's potential opponent, Southeast took two of three from Morehead State and swept three from Eastern Illinois.

A Southeast victory today would tie for the second-longest winning streak in program history, matching the 1998 squad that won 16 straight.

No. 1 on the list is 32 consecutive wins by the 1996 team.

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