JEFFERSON CITY — After a 1-6 start in conference play, Carson-Newman enters its final week of the regular season in a battle for a South Atlantic Conference championship.
The Eagles (22-7, 7-7 SAC) are a game back of a log jam for first place. Lincoln Memorial, Newberry, Anderson and Catawba are all tied for the top spot in the standings. While a SAC title is still in play for C-N, the margin is razor thin. The Eagles are just a half-game ahead of Coker for the final spot in the league tournament.
Carson-Newman will look to shore up its position for the tournament with games against Wingate (29-15, 8-8 SAC) and Mars Hill (22-17, 6-10 SAC) on Monday and Tuesday on the road. The Eagles take on the Bulldogs Monday at 1:30 from the Wingate Softball Complex before taking on the Lions at Ponder Field Tuesday at 2 p.m.
The Eagles have won six straight, and are unbeaten in April, after slipping on a banana peel in March. However, Carson-Newman enters the two doubleheaders with some frustration in spite of its recent winning ways. The Eagles committed six errors, including four in one game, in a sweep of North Greenville last Wednesday.
“The old saying is defense wins championships,” head softball coach Michael Graves said. “Hopefully that holds true. I think our hitting is a little bit better than what it shows on paper. We will definitely have to pitch as well as we did against North Greenville, and we’ll definitely have to play better defense. I hit so many balls at them yesterday that I blistered my hand. I’ll take that because they didn’t boot a ball.”
Carson-Newman has picked its bats up as a collective of late. Five Eagles are all riding season or career-long hitting streaks. Leah Sohm leads the charge with a seven-game spurt (career long) that features five multi-hit efforts. Lacie Rinus, Allison Rager and Abby Fiessinger have all hit successfully in six straight games. KaraLynne Levi has a season-long five-game hitting streak.
Wingate has two of the top strikeout pitchers in the SAC in Aubrey Reed and Rachel Weidner. Reep leads the SAC with 156 strikeouts. Weidner is second with 133. Reep has a quartet of double-digit strikeout efforts, including a pair of 14-K games against Converse and Queens. Weidner has struck out 11 twice, against Belmont Abbey and Queens.
“She keeps you off balance,” Graves said of Reep. “You rarely see the same pitch in the same location twice. There’s a reason she leads the league in strikeouts.”
Last year, Reep struck out five, and Weidner fanned three in two losses to C-N.
Wingate leads the SAC and is 17th in the country with a .333 batting average. The Bulldogs are second in the SAC in scoring with 5.74 runs per game. The Eagles have the league’s second-lowest team ERA at 2.21.
Mars Hill is a much different team at home than it is on the road. Away from Ponder Field, the Lions are 8-10. Inside the friendly confines outside Asheville, the Lions are 13-4. At home, Mars Hill bats .375 versus .284 on the road. A whopping 30 home runs have left Ponder Field, while Mars Hill has only hit 14 on the road.
Carson-Newman has won three straight games at Ponder Field, however, 2017’s sweep of the Lions at Mars Hill marked the first time that Carson-Newman had pulled that feat off since 2007. The Eagles had either split, or been swept in the previous four doubleheaders at Mars Hill.
The Eagles won the first 44 games in the series’ history before Mars Hill broke through with a doubleheader sweep at Ponder Field in 2009.
The Lions are one of the top home-run hitting teams in the country. Mars Hill averages 1.22 bombs per game, that figure leads the South Atlantic Conference (Carson-Newman is second) and is seventh in the nation.
Jordan Harris has positively raked for the Lions. She has the second most home runs in the SAC with 12 on the year, the 12th most nationally. Her most successful run came from March 2-7, when she went yard five times in a three-game span.