Texas A&M University-Commerce softball head coach Richie Bruister could pick up his 400th career victory against Texas Woman's University this weekend in Denton.
Mark Haslett: It’s fitting that Texas A&M University-Commerce softball head coach Richie Bruister could achieve a milestone victory this weekend against a very familiar opponent. The Lions will be in Denton on Friday and Saturday for a four-game series against Texas Woman’s University. If A&M-Commerce can win two of those games, Bruister will pick up his 400th career win on a diamond where he won about a quarter of those victories. Bruister coached the Pioneers from 2009 to 2013. During that time, TWU went to the Lone Star Conference Championship four times and, more significantly, made three trips to the NCAA Tournament. Bruister’s last season in Denton was his best. The Pioneers won the region and were ranked as high as sixth nationally that year. Texas Woman’s also advanced to the NCAA Division II Championship for the first time in program history. This year, the Pioneers are still good. TWU is just a few games ahead of A&M-Commerce in a very competitive Lone Star Conference that’s arguably the toughest circuit in NCAA Division II. In college sports, it’s fair to say that it all starts with recruiting. Bruister has built the program at A&M-Commerce quickly, with a mix of local and national talent.
Richie Bruister: We’ve got a bulk of Texas kids, local kids, from an hour less or so, we’ve got players from the Houston-area, and then we stretch out as far as Washington, Arizona, California. So we’re getting out there across the country to be able to find the best student athletes, not just one that’s great on the field, we obviously have to have that, but one that’s also going to contribute academically, as well, for our team.
Haslett: Academic success has been a hallmark of Bruister’s squads. To encourage classroom achievement, Bruister believes in both unstructured and structured incentives.
Bruister: One of the things that I think is unique to our program is we have academic battle buddies. Something I took from the military. I’ve never been in the military, but I’ve been fortunate enough to work alongside some of the guys at previous institutions. Basically it’s a challenge. We have groups, and whoever ends up with the highest GPA with that group actually gets a running pass, so that’s always good. When we’re pushing them pretty hard, they say “You know what, coach? I need the morning off or something from exercise,” they can turn in that running pass and do well. On the recruiting side of things, the parents like, because they know when they come to our university and certainly my program that I care about academics. We finished 8th in the country last year with our team GPA, and then this past fall we had 3.54 team GPA. We had 15 of our 18 players had above a 3.3 GPA.
Haslett: Back on the field, the Lions are feeling pretty good after last weekend. A&M-Commerce was in Canyon to face the number one team in the country – the Lady Buffs of West Texas A&M. WT took three out of four, but the Lions did have the honor of handing the Buffs their first loss in 31 games. Sophomore starting pitcher Selena Rima from Spokane, Washington, scattered four runs over six innings. Freshman reliever Katie Dean from Whitesboro snuffed a last-inning rally to help A&M-Commerce to a 6-4 triumph over previously undefeated WT. After this weekend’s games in Denton, the Lions will play a Tuesday doubleheader at UT-Permian Basin before returning to Commerce for a weekend set against conference rival Tarleton State. More information can be found online at lionathletics.com.