VIDEO: Michael Graves Interview
JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. – After 10 days and a quartet of rainouts, No. 11 Carson-Newman (9-0) retakes the field, weather willing, at Augusta (1-7) with a Tuesday twinbill at 1 p.m.
The Eagles last took the field on Feb. 16 with a 6-3 win over Claflin. Carson-Newman is looking to match the third-best start in program history. In 2007, the Eagles rattled off 11 straight wins that year. 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.
"I've started by checking the weather every hour in Augusta to make sure that it's not going to rain," head softball coach Michael Graves said. "It's something else. I haven't seen something like this in quite some time. We're excited to get back on the field to play even though we've got to go five hours away to do it, you can't not be fired up."
Carson-Newman leapt into the national rankings last week at 11th. The Eagles hadn't been ranked in precisely one calendar year, when C-N was 25th in the NFCA's second poll a year ago. It marks Carson-Newman's highest ranking since the Eagles were sixth in the penultimate poll in 2008.
The Eagles have gotten there with a love for the long ball.
Carson-Newman has been clobbering home runs left and right to open up this season. The Eagles have drilled 17 home runs, the third most in the country this year. If the Eagles maintain this pace, C-N will best the 2013 team's school record 49 home runs around April 2 against Tusculum. As a result of the love of the long ball, the Eagles are also third in the country in slugging percentage with a mark of .632
"We've got the indoor hitting facility, so that's been helpful," Graves said. "You can obviously work on pitching inside; however, the ball bounces a little differently when you're working on ground balls off a basketball court."
Reigning SAC and TSWA Player of the Week Abby Fiessinger (Benton, Ky.) has especially been on a tear. The junior has hit successfully in eight straight at-bats. Two more, and she'll become the 21st player in NCAA Division II history to collect a hit in double-digit at-bats consecutively. Fiessinger has two home runs in her last six at bats.
"We've done a pretty good job of knowing the strike zone and making pitchers bring the ball over the plate to us," Graves said. "We've been able to work ahead in the county and make our opponents throw strikes."
Standing in the way of an 11-0 start is Augusta.
"Anytime you play a Peach Belt team, you're going to go against quality ball players," Graves said. "They might not have the record they want, but we certainly expect them to be talented and to provide a challenge."
The Jags are only 1-7, all against SAC competition, but logged an impressive 9-3 win over perennial SAC power Anderson.
Augusta has struggled to put a bat on a ball this year, hitting a paltry .212 as a team, a figure that is 212th out of 236 teams in NCAA Division II. The one big bright spot has been Augusta's defense, the Jags have turned the 17th most double plays in the nation.
Only two regulars for the Jaguars are hitting north of .300.
Lauren Prescott leads the offense with a .391 average. A third of her nine hits have gone for extra bases with a double and two triples.
Meanwhile, Meredith McLendon has logged a .320 average with three doubles, a dinger and five runs batted in.
However, no one else among the Jags regulars has an average north of .250.
Augusta has largely been pitcher by committee this year. Six different players have thrown at least an inning.
Morgan Hunter is the most consistent member off the staff. She has a team-low 4.90 ERA and a 1-3 record. No one else on the staff has more than one start.
While Carson-Newman has outscored teams 62-18 to open the year, it's come with slow starts. Carson-Newman has scored runs in the first inning of a game just once. The Eagles lit the lamp twice in a 6-3 win over Claflin. Those are the Eagles only first inning runs this year.
C-N leads the all-time series with Augusta 10-5; the Eagles have won four straight, but haven't swept Augusta on the road ever.
Follow @cnathletics on Twitter for live coverage of the contest, starting with a 1 p.m. first pitch.