JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. – No. 20 Carson-Newman cranks open its 2018 campaign with a home twinbill against the Lees-McRae Bobcats. First pitch from the Vickee Kazee-Hollifield Softball Complex is set for 1 p.m.
Carson-Newman is 28-2 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.
This marks the third straight year that the Eagles have opened up the season with the Bobcats.
"I know the kids are ready to play," head softball coach Vickee Kazee-Hollifield said. "They've been ready to play since they came on campus in September. We're eager to see how we line up and then to see what we need to work on."
Carson-Newman has won 12 consecutive games against Lees-McRae. The Eagles are up on aggregate 88-5 over that span. Lees-McRae-snapped a six-game scoring drought to C-N in game two of 2016's double-header, a 4-2 C-N win. Eight of the Eagles' last 12 wins against LMC have come via the run rule. Of the 37 previous meetings with Lees-McRae, Carson-Newman has won 23 via a shutout win.
In last year's doubleheader sweep of the Bobcats, the Eagles scored 15 of their 19 runs in the doubleheader in innings numbered two.
Lees-McRae is picked to finish eighth in Conference Carolinas. The Bobcats 15 wins last year are the most for the program since the 2011 season (a 26-win campaign).
"The scuttlebutt is that they had a really good fall," Kazee-Hollifield said. "Coach Poole has a strong core of players back, plus she's added players who you know will be able to help them."
Conference Carolinas named Sarah Tucker, Kara Cunningham and Noel Cassidy as players to watch in its preseason rankings list.
A third baseman, as a junior, Tucker appeared in 45 games and hit .239 with two home runs and 17 RBI. Of Tucker's 33 hits in 2017, 12 went for extra bases with the two home runs and 10 doubles.
Cunningham was the Bobcats top hurler last season. As a sophomore, Cunningham played in all 49 games for the Bobcats. As a hitter, Cunningham hit .290 in 169 at-bats with two home runs, 21 RBI, 10 doubles and scored 16 runs. In addition to her work at the plate, Cunningham was LMC's top pitcher in 2017. The Indian Trail, N.C. native led the Bobcat pitching staff in appearances (33), starts (16), wins (7), saves (2), complete games (13), innings pitched (147.2), strikeouts (114) and ERA (2.80). Cunningham was recognized at the Conference Carolinas Softball Tournament with All-Tournament team honors.
Meanwhile, Cassidy led the Bobcats with 50 hits in 157 at-bats (.318 batting average) in 49 games in 2017. The Myrtle Beach, S.C. native also hit two home runs, 20 RBI and scored 20 runs...Cassidy posted 16 multi-hit games in 2017.
The Eagles counter with a now veteran club that started six freshman en route to the league title last year. Lacie Rinus (Murfreesboro, Tenn.) and Abby Fiessinger (Benton, Ky.) were named All-Americans last year at utility/pitcher and second base respectively.
"You hope that you've gotten stronger once your freshmen have gotten some game savviness behind them," Kazee-Hollifield said. "The thing I like about it all is that they know how strong our opponents are. They know just how hard we have to come out and play every day to be successful. That's a tall order, but we're looking forward to it."
First pitch from The Vick is set for 1 p.m. Coverage of the contests will be available on the Eagle Sports Network online at cneagles.com/live.