JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. – Ninth-ranked Newberry, the first place team in the South Atlantic Conference standings, journeys to Carson-Newman for a three-game series starting Friday at 3 p.m. with a doubleheader on Saturday starting at noon.
"Russell Triplett, it all comes down to the head coach and the job that he does," Carson-Newman coach Tom Griffin said. "He is absolutely amazing as far as what he does as a teacher and how he motivates players. They play in a big park and home runs are tough to come by there. He has a group that fits what they do and they do it extremely well. Newberry is very lucky to have him."
On Friday, Greg Valentine (Knoxville, Tenn.) will reset the program record for career pitching appearances breaking a tie with Ryan Fillers (2010-13) with his 89th time toeing the rubber.
Needing three more wins to notch 400 victories at Carson-Newman, Griffin would become the fourth coach in the history of the SAC to hit that overall total. Jim Gantt at Catawba is the all-time leader with over 800, Doug Jones of Tusculum had 676 and Bill Nash at Wingate piled up 403.
Carson-Newman (22-15, 5-9) is hosting top 10 team for a three-game series for the first time since third-ranked Catawba visited the Silver Diamond Baseball Complex on April 8-9, 2006 with the Indians leaving with a series win. This weekend is the first time that Newberry (31-8, 14-1) enters as a ranked team.
Since joining Division II, C-N is 37-77-1 against teams ranked in the top 30 in any division including a 23-47 mark under Griffin. The Eagles went 4-4 against ranked foes in 2018 but were swept by 18th-ranked Catawba three weekends ago.
The Eagles have played four three-game sets against top 10 teams since 1998 coming out on the short end each time. In that period, the program is 9-23-1 against such clubs but 4-4 over the last six seasons.
There have 73 overall meetings in the history of the series with the Eagles holding a 48-25 all-time lead. In 34 outings in Jefferson City, C-N has a 29-5 record winning each of the last seven series with four series sweeps. The last time Newberry earned a series victory at Mossy Creek came during the 2003 season when the Wolves won two out of three games on March 22-23. That year was last time Carson-Newman won the SAC regular season championship finishing league action with a 13-7 mark.
Last season, Griffin's crew won the first two games of the series to take a road set off of the Wolves for the first time since 2012. C-N was outscored overall in the series 15-14 winning 5-3 and 8-7 while posting a .237 batting average compared to a .306 mark for Newberry.
Newberry saw its 12-game winning streak end on Tuesday against 24th-ranked Mount Olive suffering its first home loss of the season after opening the campaign 20-0. It has put the club in the top 10 in the country for the first time since ranking seventh in 1977 as a member of NAIA.
"They are going to be well-disciplined and very aggressive, especially on the base paths," Griffin said. "They want to create pressure and put pressure on you through the bunting game and putting balls in play to force you to make mistakes. The pitching staff has been outstanding this year with three starters and two lefties and a righty out of the bullpen. They are very solid across the board. When you are winning, you feel good. When you feel good, you tend to play good. They have a good recipe right now."
Despite the home success, the club is 9-7 on the road this year. There is a slight downturn offensively but pitching is the biggest difference as the hurlers are posting a 6.43 ERA in 16 road games versus a 3.15 mark at the Smith Road Complex.
Sitting atop the league standings is unfamiliar territory as the Wolves have finished in the top three twice since joining the SAC in 1998. A second-place finish in 2015 is the best ever end of year slot finishing two games behind eventual national runners-up Catawba.
With one loss in 15 conference affairs, coach Russell Triplett's unit has the highest winning percentage of any team in the country that has played double-digit league affairs. The team has won 11 SAC games in-a-row since falling in the series opener at Coker, 4-1, on March 8. No team in the SAC has finished with fewer than five league losses since Tusculum went 24-3 and Catawba went 23-4 in 2012.
At the plate, no team in the nation has scored more runs overall as the team is posting 8.5 runs per game with 16 double-digit scoring efforts on the year. There are 10 different categories where the Wolves rank in the top 10 in Division II.
Newberry is third in the nation with 101 steals, one behind Catawba's 102 for joining the top 10 for a single season in SAC history. Five players are in double figures with three ranking in the top six in the league. In 33 of the 39 contests, the team has at least one steal including 23 with multiple.
Danton Hyman, a second-team All-SAC pick in 2018, leads the country with 65 hits, is second in runs with 49 with the third-best batting average among SAC players at .417. He had multi-hit games in six of his last eight before going 0-for-4 in Tuesday's loss. He had six hits in 12 at-bats against C-N last season.
On the mound, the team is third overall in ERA amongst league schools but is eighth in strikeouts per nine innings at eight. Josh Bookbinder is the third weekend starter sitting in fifth in ERA with a 3.02 clip. He has had a quality start in six of his last seven but has allowed nine earned runs in 18 1/3 innings on the road.
Quinton Driggers is a two-time SAC Pitcher of the Week and the reigning NCBWA Region Pitcher of the Week. His 1.41 ERA ranks 11th in the country to lead the conference with 18 overall outings this season. He has not allowed an earned run since March 12, a string of 19 2/3 scoreless innings. He has yet to allow an earned run in 18 1/3 SAC stanzas.
All three games this weekend will air on the Eagle Sports Network in both audio and video formats by visiting cneagles.com/live for the links to the format of your choosing.
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