VIDEO: Michael Graves Interview
JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. – Carson-Newman (4-0) will try to pick up a 5-0 start for the first time in five years when Converse (0-2) opens the doors to the Vickee Kazee-Hollifield Softball Complex Saturday at noon.
Carson-Newman last started 5-0, and 6-0 for that matter, in the 2014 season before falling in eight innings to Georgia College 6-4. If history is on Carson-Newman's side, that streak should continue.
The Eagles have won at least 16 straight home openers (definitive home/away data only goes back to 2003), and C-N has shut out or run-ruled or shut out its home opener every year since 2012. The Eagles tallied a 7-2 win in their home opener over Bellarmine that year.
"We have to stay focused," head coach Michael Graves said. "It doesn't matter if we're home or away, or the level of competition that we're playing, we have to bring the same mindset to the game. Hopefully our bats show up the way they did at the end of last weekend."
This is the first meeting between Carson-Newman and Converse. However, the Eagles are 53-13 over the last six years against members of Conference Carolinas. Carson-Newman has won seven straight against schools from the league dating back to a 9-3 loss to King on Feb. 15, 2018.
Converse was picked to finish last in the 11-team Conference Carolinas. They are one of six teams from the league C-N will play this year. The Valkyries went 3-49 a year ago. They logged a league win over Belmont Abbey and swept Rochester (Mich.). The Valkyries have lost eight straight games dating back to the win over Belmont Abbey on April 13, 2018.
Last year, the Valkyries played 15 games against SAC opposition. The Valkyries were run-ruled eight times and shutout seven times against SAC opponents.
"You can't take anyone lightly," Graves said. "In years past, we've struggled in games like this. We might win, but we might win 2-1. We can't do that. We have to bring the same mindset, the same approach. The goal is to score double-digit runs every game we play."
The Valkyries started the year 0-2 with 8-0 run-rule and 9-1 losses to Francis Marion. The Patriots no-hit Converse to start the year. FMU hit .755 at the plate in sweeping Converse.
Converse had more than its fair share of struggles to start the season last year. The Valkyries went 0-16 in February of 2018 and were outscored 130-20 during that stretch and were run-ruled seven times. Converse was 0-20 last season away from Spartanburg, S.C. The Valkyries were outscored 170-20 in those games.
Meanwhile, the Eagles have gotten off to a rocket start. In sweeping Young Harris and Georgia College, the Eagles took four wins from teams that made last year's Southeast Regional. The Eagles hit .305 against those teams and belted seven home runs. The seven dingers lead the South Atlantic Conference.
Haley Caldwell (Kenova, W.Va.) is riding a 10-game hitting streak from the close of her freshman year into the start of her sophomore campaign. Caldwell is hitting .667 (14-21) in that stretch. Caldwell has accounted for four multi-hit efforts during the streak.
"She's battling off pitches that are close until she finds something she likes," Graves said. "Once she finds something she likes, she delivers. She's not swinging at bad pitches anymore."
Allison Rager (Elkview, W.Va.) guided C-N in the circle through the opening weekend. She notched all four wins with a 2.07 ERA and 12 strikeouts in 23.2 innings of work.
Rager was also potent at the plate. She clobbered three home runs and drove in six runs, both team highs.
First pitch between the Eagles and Valkyries is set for noon Saturday. Coverage will be available on the Eagle Sports Network online at cneagles.com/live.