VIDEO: Michael Graves Interview
JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. – Sixth-seeded Carson-Newman (32-19) gets rolling in the 2018 NCAA Softball Southeast Regional against a familiar face Thursday at 2 p.m. at Bears Field in Hickory, N.C.
The Eagles will match wits with third-seeded and 20th-ranked Georgia College. The Eagles and Bobcats are colliding for a 32nd time. The Eagles and Bobcats have matched up for two of the last three times that the Eagles have been NCAA tournament bound.
"It's kind of funny that we get to play them," head softball coach Michael Graves said. "We tried to play them twice this year and it was a monsoon both times we had the game scheduled. I guess we were destined to play them this year. They are always a good team. Jamie (Grodecki, Georgia College's head coach) coaches them well. They are quick and play a lot of small ball against you. All nine throughout the lineup are dangerous and can do something against you."
The winner of the matchup between the Eagles and Bobcats gets the winner of the showdown between second-seeded and 11th-ranked Lenoir-Rhyne and seventh-seeded Young Harris. The losers of those two games play one another in an elimination game Friday in the double elimination tournament.
The Eagles are making their 14th foray into the NCAA tournament and their third trip in the last four years and are looking for their first NCAA tournament win since 2015 when they defeated Augusta 6-3. The Eagles have lost four straight NCAA tournament games, losing twice on the second day of competition in 2015 to Georgia College 3-1 and Armstrong State 12-6. Carson-Newman was two-and-done in last year's tournament falling 7-4 to seventh-ranked Pfeiffer to start the tournament in extra innings before Armstrong State eliminated the Eagles 4-1.
This marks Carson-Newman's third trip to Hickory for NCAA regional play. Carson-Newman has been to the Tar Heel State three other times for NCAA regional play, including 2009 when Carson-Newman rolled through the Hickory regional unbeaten for its lone appearance in a Super Regional in program history.
Carson-Newman opened that 2009 tournament with a 6-5 win over USC Aiken before defeating the host Bears twice, 6-4 and 2-1 before heading to top-ranked North Georgia, where the Eagles fell 6-3 and 1-0 to the Nighthawks.
This appearance pulls Hickory, N.C. even with Kennesaw, Ga. as C-N's most frequent postseason stops.
C-N owns at least one win over every team that made regional play with the exception of Georgia College and North Georgia. The Eagles and Bobcats tried to play twice this season, but were rained out both times. Georgia College had won 10 of the last 12 meetings between the schools following a seven-game C-N win streak from 2009-12.
Carson-Newman is led by South Atlantic Conference Player of the Year and SAC Tournament MVP Lacie Rinus (Murfreesboro, Tenn.). Rinus is the 18th player in Carson-Newman history to be named the league's player of the year.
Rinus becomes just the second pitcher in league history since the SAC began presenting a distinct Pitcher of the Year award in 2004 to be named player of the year. She joins Carson-Newman warhorse Mary Shealy who brought home player of the year honors in 2011.
The sophomore is the first player in league history to win both a pitcher of the year and a player of the year honor in a career. She joins former Carson-Newman pitchers Carol Zachary, Heather Randolph and Marci Mitchell (all three SAC Hall of Famers), who all won the award before the awards split in 2004, as Eagle hurlers who have taken home the Player of the Year honor.
Rinus, a second-team selection at pitcher joined All-SAC honorees Abby Fiessinger (first team, utility), Haley Caldwell (second team, outfield) and Katie Pritchett (honorable mention, third base) as players who were recognized in the postseason by the league office.
Rinus was formidable both at the plate and in the circle on the year. She finished the year second in the league in batting average at .435. She has 70 hits, 19 doubles, three triples and a pair of home runs. She has gotten on base 52 percent of the time and slugged .656. She leads the conference in hits and doubles, is fourth in triples and fourth in the league with 99 total bases. Her 19 doubles are top five in the country and are one away from the single-season school record in Carson-Newman history.
Meanwhile, Georgia College is making its fifth NCAA regional appearance under eighth-year head coach Jamie Grodecki.
The Bobcats are let by a quintet of All-Peach Belt performers. Senior second baseman Baylee Hall and senior outfielder Holland Coursey received first team honors from the league, while junior outfielder Caroline Snider, freshman outfielder Sarah Couch and freshman pitcher Jessie Morris all landed on the second team.
First pitch between the Eagles and Bobcats is set for 2 p.m. Friday. Follow @cnathletics on Twitter for live updates of the game.