VIDEO: Michael Graves Interview
JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. – Carson-Newman (6-0) takes aim at its best start in 12 years when it heads to the Palmetto State Friday for four games in the Bearcat/Fleet Invitational.
The Eagles play twice Friday in Greenwood, S.C. C-N takes on host Lander (6-3) at 12:30 p.m. at Doug Spears Field before meeting with Claflin (5-3) for the first time in program history at 3:00 p.m.
Then, Saturday, Carson-Newman heads to Due West, S.C. to take on the tournament's other host Erskine (3-3) at 10 a.m. before travelling 30 minutes back to Greenwood to meet Claflin for a second time at 12:30 p.m.
Carson-Newman is looking for its first 7-0/8-0 start since 2007. The Eagles rattled off 11 straight wins that year. The 11-0 start from 2007 is Carson-Newman's third-best start in school history. The 1994 team started 19-0, while the 1993 team ran through the regular season unbeaten, 24-0, before falling to Elon in the SAC tournament for the best start in program history.
"We have to start early," head coach Michael Graves said. "We've been hitting the ball well, but it's been in the third or fourth inning before we really get rolling. Thank goodness our pitching has been holding people, but we have to start scoring in the first and second innings."
While Carson-Newman has outscored teams 36-10 to open the year, the Eagles haven't exactly been pouncing on teams. Carson-Newman has yet to score a run in the first inning of a game. Furthermore, C-N has only scored four runs in the second, all of which came in one game against Converse. C-N has scored 19 runs between the third and fourth innings of games, the Eagles' two most productive frame.
The damage has largely come from the long ball. Carson-Newman has clobbered 12 home runs, tops in the country for this young season. Allison Rager (Elkview, W.Va.) paces the Eagles with a league-best four visits to the #DingerDistrict, she has the second most home runs in NCAA Division II.
"We need to a better job at jumping on pitches when a pitcher makes a mistake, especially early in the count," Graves said. "Instead of being good 1-2, of 2-2 hitters, we need to attack early in the count and be good 0-0 hitters."
Carson-Newman gets the party started Friday with Lander, a team the Eagles' haven't played since 2013. Katie Sims fired a two-hit shutout to pace the Eagles to a 4-0 win in the night cap that day after the Bearcats prevailed 7-4 to start the day. Sara Kelley hit a three-run tater to pace the Eagles' offense in the night cap.
Lander comes into the twinbill off a split with North Greenville. The Bearcats run-ruled North Greenville to start the day 9-0 before dropping an eight-inning, 4-3 decision in the night cap.
The Bearcats were picked fifth in the Peach Belt preseason poll.
Lander has been able to rely on the arm of freshman hurler Abby Killian. Killian became the first Lander softball player to hurl a perfect game since the college transitioned to the NCAA. Killian struck out 11 of the final 15 batters she faced in a 7-0 win over Emmanuel.
For the year, Killian is 3-1 with a 1.18 ERA. She has struck out 36 against just two walks.
The Bearcats have four regulars who all hit north of .400. Brianna Surrento has the top mark with a .550 average.
The meetings with Claflin represent Carson-Newman's second and third games against a program from the CIAA and the Eagles' first in 22 years. Carson-Newman defeated Shaw 9-0 in 1997.
The Panthers were previously members of the SIAC until joining the CIAA this year. The Eagles own sweeps of SIAC members Clark Atlanta, Fort Valley State and Benedict over the last four seasons.
Claflin was swept by South Atlantic Conference member Newberry 11-0 and 9-5 to open the year. The Panthers have lost 15 straight to South Atlantic Conference competition.
Claflin was picked second in the preseason CIAA coaches poll.
Erskine has played exclusively South Atlantic Conference teams to open up the year. Of the Fleet's first six games, five have been decided by one run. Erskine is 3-2 in such affairs. The lone exception was a 12-0 loss to Newberry
The Eagles are 55-13 over the last six years against members of Conference Carolinas. Carson-Newman has won nine straight against schools from the league dating back to a 9-3 loss to King on Feb. 15.
Hannah Houge has dazzled in the circle for the Fleet. Houge is third in the country with three shutouts this year. She ranks 19th nationally with a 0.33 ERA. Houge is much improved from a year ago. She started and took a loss in a 13-3 defeat to the Eagles after giving up five hits and seven runs in 1.2 innings.
First pitch Friday is set for 12:30 with Lander. For live coverage of all four games, follow @cnathletics on Twitter.