Carson-Newman Softball Position Previews: The Battery

VIDEO: KaraLynne Levi Interview

JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. – The following is the opening part in a three-part series chronicling Carson-Newman softball's positions for 2019. Catcher KaraLynne Levi (Murfreesboro, Tenn.) analyzes the Eagles pitchers and catchers for the upcoming season. 

The Eagles seem loaded at the position for 2019.  Levi returns for her junior year behind the plate with 110 starts already under her belt.  She gets to work with one of the most versatile athletes in the SAC in junior pitcher Lacie Rinus (Murfreesboro, Tenn.). Levi has caught every inning, all 460.0 of them, that Rinus has thrown en route to earning SAC Pitcher and Player of the Year honors her first two seasons at Mossy Creek. 

Levi has established herself among the best defensive catchers in the Southeast Region and will try to return to her offensive form from her freshman year.  Levi has thrown out 42 percent of runners who have tried to steal on her in her two year career. 

"It just comes down to working in bullpens and working on the communication aspect of my game," Levi said. "I've worked to have good communication with Coach Graves to let him know if something's not working, we can get stuff corrected."

However, at the plate is where Levi will look to return to the form she showed her freshman year when she hit .318 with 12 doubles, a triple and two dingers. 

Last year, Levi saw her average drop to .226. She had seven doubles and two bombs. 

Cheyenne Boles (Knoxville, Tenn.) will back up Levi at catcher, providing senior leadership at the position. 

One constant throughout Levi's career has been her ability to wear a pitch.  Through two years, she has gotten plunked 38 times, good to be among the 25 most hit batters in NCAA history. If she continues on her current pace, Levi could be the second most hit player in NCAA history.  Sarah Wittenburg of Texas Women's College holds the career record with 95 HBP.  Carson-Newman's Whitney Kee is fourth in NCAA history with 62. 

Levi will work with one of the best to suit it up in the SAC last year.  Rinus joined second baseman Whitney Hickam as the only other two-year All-American since Carson-Newman moved to NCAA Division II. Rinus added the accolade to her SAC Player of the Year and SAC tournament MVP honors. Rinus is 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 joined 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. 

"It helps when you're working with a pitcher too (Rinus) that you've known since you were 12.  She's going to continue to be Lacie," Levi said. "She's hard-nosed and going to get it done whatever it takes. I have all the confidence in the world in her."

Rinus was formidable both at the plate (we'll focus more on the at the plate part in the outfield preview) and in the circle on the year.  In the circle, Rinus led the league in starts (36), complete games (25), shutouts (11), innings pitched (232.2) and strikeouts (223).  She had the fifth best batting average against in the league at .221 and the fifth best ERA in the conference at 2.12.  She matched her career high for strikeouts on a trio of occasions this year, striking out 12 against Queens, Wingate and Mars Hill.

However, it won't be Rinus as a warhorse this year.  The Eagles add in Herbert Hoover-product and Morehead State transfer Allison Rager (Elkview, W.Va.) as a senior transfer. 

"Allison will be a great offset for Lacie," Levi said. "She has all the experience in the world and will be a great asset to our staff.  She has it all.  She has command, speed, location; I can't wait to see her pitch in a game."

Rager made 71 career appearances and 40 career starts for the Kentucky-based Eagles.  She earned All-OVC Newcomer team Honors as a freshman and has been lauded with CoSIDA Academic All-District honors, All-OVC first team honors and OVC All-Tournament Team honors in her three years at MSU. 

Rager has 320.1 innings pitched in her career with 167 strikeouts against 107 walks. 

Her freshman year was her most productive as a pitcher.  She tallied a 2.74 ERA and a 14-7 record in 33 appearances and 18 starts. 

Her sophomore year was her most productive year at the plate.  She hit .393 playing first base with 57 hits in 145 at bats.  Rager clobbered nine doubles and nine bombs that year. 

Outside of Rinus and Rager, the Eagles will also be able to turn to freshmen Morgan Baker-Celis (Kentfield, Calif.), junior college transfer Abby Hicks (Knoxville, Tenn) and sophomore Valerie Seay (Cross Plains, Tenn.)

Baker-Celis makes the trek across country after starring for Emily Atkinson for the Redwood Giants.  As a senior, she posted a 1.2 ERA with 139 strikeouts in 82 innings.  She allowed 14 earned runs across 12 games started. She was twice named MCAL All-League, earning the recognition as a junior and as a senior.  Baker-Celis helped Redwood to a spot in the NCS title game in 2015 as a freshman. 

"Ever since I've been here, we never really had a staff," Levi said. "I'm thankful we have one so that if one pitch is off, we have four or five options to turn to." 

Hicks transfers to  Carson-Newman from Chattanooga State.  She tallied a 1.87 ERA in 48.2 innings as a sophomore.  She gave up less than a hit an inning and had 29 strikeouts against just eight walks.  She was 6-2 with a save as a sophomore.  Hicks helped Chat State to an NJCAA national tournament appearance. 

In high school, she played for legendary Carson-Newman pitcher Carol Mitchell (ne' Zachary) at Gibbs. She helped the Eagles to a trio of state tournament appearances.  She was named all-state, all-district and her district's most valuable player in 2016.

Seay tallied six apperances and 9.2 innings in the circle as a freshman.

Carson-Newman softball's position previews continue Sunday with the outfield.

Graves adds seven for 2019
August 26, 2018 Graves adds seven for 2019