Eagles to host Catawba Friday night at Smokies Park to open three-game SAC series
JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. — The Carson-Newman College baseball team will celebrate their seniors Friday night when the host South Atlantic Conference-leading Catawba at Smokies Park.
The contest begins a three-game series with the Indians (28-8, 17-4 SAC). While the Eagles (17-21, 13-8) can't take the conference lead with a sweep, they can do some serious damage and stay in at least a three-way tie for second place with Tusculum and LMU. First pitch is scheduled for 6 p.m.
Carson-Newman and the Indians will follow that game with a doubleheader on Saturday at the Silver Diamond Baseball Complex beginning at 1 p.m.
"We feel so fortunate to be in the position we're in," C-N head coach Tom Griffin said. "From where we were in the beginning of the year and some of the things we had to overcome. We're lucky to be in this spot. Our whole goal since the Tusculum series is to take care of conference play and try to get into the tournament."
Since March 19, the Eagles have gone 7-2 to get back in the conference race. While their defense and pitching were sound from the beginning, confidence at the plate Carson-Newman has been improving on offense in each game. In only one contest, a 2-0 shutout win over Mars Hill, were the Eagles held to less than four runs.
Sophomore outfielder Lucas Mohon (Glasgow, Ky.) and senior outfielder Jonathan Dalton (Rutledge, Tenn.) have been the Eagles most consistent threats at the plate this season. Mohon leads the team with a .347 average and Dalton provides the power with eight home runs, 11 doubles and 34 RBIs.
"The last couple of weekends we've gotten timely hits from people," Griffin said. "Really, offensively we're in such a deep hole in some areas, we're still scratching and clawing to catch fire. A conference tournament is where that can happen."
Catawba won't make getting hits easy. The Indians field two of the top pitchers in the SAC, Nick Lamascolo (6-1, 2.65 ERA) and J.J. Janakowski (6-1, 3.14 ERA). They also have a deadly bullpen led by Will Huneycutt (3-1, 1.86 ERA) who has pitched in 22 games for Catawba.
"They (Catawba) are the top team in the conference in pitching and defense and when you have those two things you're going to have a chance to win," Griffin said. "They've got two of the better pitchers in the league throwing without a doubt."
Luckily for the Eagles pitching and defense is where they've excelled all season. Senior pitcher Austin Bridgewater (Morristown, Tenn.) and junior Robby Thigpen (St. Petersberg, Fla.) attack batters with distinctly different styles.
"Austin gives us a shot every first game," Griffin said. "He's an absolute bulldog on the mound. He's got a great presence and a very fiery competitor. That's what you need in your pitchers. Thigpen is more about locating. He's a low 80s guy, but he's able to move the ball up and down."
With just six SAC games to go in the season, the Eagles are battling for one of the top tournament seeds. Only four games separate second place and ninth place, so every conference game is a must win. Then, according to Griffin, it's all about getting hot at the right time.
"You've got to play well in three areas for just three days to have a chance to win the tournament," Griffin said. "We're competing better, especially on the mound and on defense and that will keep us in games."
Tickets for Friday's game at Smokies park are $10, a portion of which go back to the Carson-Newman baseball program. C-N will face Pfeiffer University at 2 p.m. on Wednesday afternoon in non-conference action at the Silver Diamond Baseball Complex.