JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. – Season No. 32 of softball on the banks of Mossy Creek gets started Thursday afternoon with a doubleheader for Carson-Newman against Lees-McRae at 1 at the Vickee Kazee-Hollifield Softball Complex.
Carson-Newman is coming off a 30-21 season. Lees-McRae went 10-36 last season under first-year head coach Jaclin Poole.
"Our practices have been down for a couple days," head coach Vickee Kazee-Hollifield said. "I know they have been practicing for a whole. I think they are now eager and ready to actually play a game instead of going against one another."
Carson-Newman is 27-2 all-time in opening day games. C-N's only opening day losses came in 1997 to Division I Radford 2-0 and in 2011 at Bellarmine 2-0. C-N's largest margin of victory on opening day came in 1992 with an 18-0 decision over Trevecca Nazarene.
Lees-McRae has represented C-N's opening day opponent on four occasions. The Eagles started 2002 with 2-0 and 10-1 wins over the Bobcats. The Eagles downed the Bobcats with 8-0 and 9-0 run-rule wins in 2010. C-N pulled out sweeps again in 2014 and 2016. The 2014 season saw 8-0 and 4-0 victories to start the year, while the Eagles took 6-0 and 4-2 wins last year.
The Eagles have won 10 consecutive games against Lees-McRae. The Eagles are up on aggregate 69-5 over that span. Lees-McRae snapped a six-game scoring drought to C-N in game two of last year's double-header, a 4-2 C-N win. Six of the Eagles' last 10 wins against LMC have come via the run rule.
Of the 37 previous meetings with LeesMcRae, Carson-Newman has won 21 via a shutout win. Lees-McRae's last win was a sizeable one. The Bobcats took a 13-6 win in the second game of a doubleheader in 2011.
Preseason All-SAC first team pitcher Allison Webster (Charlestown, Ind.) struck out 11 in eight innings of work last year against the Bobcats. She and second team shortstop Kristen Toppel (Roanoke, Va.) lead the Eagles into the contest. Toppel has gone 3-for-9 at the plate with a quartet of runs batted in in her career against the Bobcats.
"The best thing they offer is the example they give day-in-day-out by how hard they work," Kazee-Hollifield said. "I hear myself pointing to them frequently in practice as an example for the rest of the team."
Lees-McRae was largely improved in its first year under Poole. The Coker alum helped the Bobcats to their most wins in five seasons with last year's 10-36 campaign. LMC will return a wealth of experience to the field this season. It has 17 returning players that were on the squad in 2016.
"As a coaching staff, when we start preparing for teams, my first question is always, 'How many do they return?'" head softball coach Vickee Kazee-Hollifield said. "Coach Graves looked at me and said, 'All of them.' There's a lot to be said for having game experience. Those kids play with a lot of energy, it's started with Jaclin and permeated through their team."
Leading the group of returners are the trio of Sarah Tucker, Kara Cunningham and Noel Cassidy. Tucker led LMC with a .316 batting average in 42 games last season. Tucker, who will be entering her junior season in 2017, also paced the Bobcats with four home runs and 18 RBI. Cunningham and Cassidy, meanwhile, hit .248 and .226, respectively in their first seasons in the Green and Gold. Cunningham also was tied for the team-lead with eight stolen bases.
Tucker and Cunningham were both named "Players to Watch" by Conference Carolinas at their respective positions. The Bobcats were picked 10th out of 11 teams in the league's preseason poll.
The Bobcats are one of six teams from the league that the Eagles will play this season.
First pitch between the Eagles and Lees-McRae is slated for 1 p.m. Coverage of the contests will be available on the Eagle Sports Network at cneagles.com/live.