VIDEO: Michael Graves Interview
JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. – Carson-Newman softball will open up the 2019 campaign with familiar faces from how it closed 2018.
Southeast Regional rematches await the Eagles in Milledgeville, Ga. at the Bobcat Kickoff. The Eagles open the year Friday at 4 p.m. with a doubleheader against Young Harris before taking on host Georgia College in a twinbill Saturday at 11 a.m.
"Getting outside and hitting live balls is great," first-year head coach Michael Graves said. "We're excited to kick off this season with two well-coached and talented swings."
The Eagles downed then No. 21 Georgia College in the opening game of last year's regional before Young Harris dropped the Eagles' into the losers' bracket with a 7-1 win en route to a sub-regional title and a super-regional appearance.
The Mountain Lions enter this year ranked No. 13 in the NFCA poll.
"After going back to the tapes from last year, you instantly see how good they are at the plate," Graves said. "We'll have to keep the ball down. They take big swings and doubles and home runs can come from any portion of their lineup."
Young Harris rates as the first ranked opponent that Carson-Newman has ever opened a season with. The Eagles were 3-4 against ranked foes last year. C-N had a win over then No. 21 Georgia College, No. 21 Queens and No. 9 Lenoir-Rhyne.
Carson-Newman and Young Harris left a combined to leave 40 baserunners (C-N, 18; YHC 22) on the pond in their doubleheader last year on April 18 that the team's split.
Young Harris was picked second behind No. 3 North Geor- gia in the Peach Belt's preseason poll. Young Harris reached its third straight NCAA Division II Tournament in 2018 and advanced to the Southeast Super Regionals for the first time in program history. The Mountain Lions welcome back 11 juniors and seniors for 2019.
Carson-Newman is 29-2 all-time in season openers. 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.
Less than 24 hours after taking on the Mountain Lions, C-N will be Georgia College's season opener.
"Jamie is one of the better coaches in the region, if not the country," Graves said. "She always fields a team that starts strong and finishes strong. I'm sure we'll have to battle some element playing her. It feels like we're always contending with weather when we play Georgia College."
The Eagles and Bobcats tried to play twice last regular season, but were rained out both times. Georgia College had won 10 of the last 12 meetings between the schools before the Eagles down the Bobcats 2-1 in last year's regionals. The Eagles put together a seven-game win streak from 2009-12.
The Bobcats said goodbye to five seniors last season, adding 10 freshmen this season. The senior class ended their career as one of the winningest classes in Georgia College history, with 154 wins in four years. GC Softball ranked third in this year's PBC Coaches Poll.
GC Softball has five nationally-ranked opponents on the list, led by defending PBC Champion No. 5 University of North Georgia for Senior Day, Sunday, April 14. The Bobcats also host No. 11 University of Alabama-Huntsville, and No. 14 Young Harris College, as well as taking on No. 12 University of Illinois-Springfield and No. 21 Lenoir-Rhyne University at neutral sites.
"I think we are ahead of where we were last year in our ability to hit the ball," Graves said. "I'm excited to watch our hitting be tested by two really good teams. However, us hitting in the cages doesn't matter unless you can take it to the field in live action."
Follow @CNathletics on Twitter for live coverage of the weekend's games. Live stats will be available through cneagles.com.