VIDEO: Michael Graves Interview
JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. – Carson-Newman (11-0) softball will try to extend its best start in 12 years when the Eagles travel to Limestone (8-2) Saturday to take on one of the best defensive teams in the country at Babe Ruth Field.
Carson-Newman is looking to reset the program's third-best start. This year's iteration of the Carson-Newman softball team has opened the year with 11 consecutive wins, matching the 2007 team's season-opening string of victories. 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.
Standing in the way of No. 11 Carson-Newman is a Limestone team that is a year removed from an NCAA regional appearance. The Saints have started 8-2 behind other-worldly defense and strong pitching.
"We'll have to hit the ball hard and continue to swing at good pitches," head coach Michael Graves said. "Their pitchers all have good ERAs and good strikeout to walk ratios. It's really impressive that they've only made three errors all year."
The Saints have a .989 fielding percentage as a team. Limestone has only made three errors in 10 games, tops in the country. Two of those came in the Saints' last win, an 8-2 triumph over Newberry on Feb. 26.
As a staff, the Saints tally a 2.41 team ERA. Freshman Caroline Ruth has positively dazzled to open up the year. A Conference Carolinas Player of the Week, Ruther has a 5-0 record and a 1.07 ERA. She has fanned 33 and walked just six.
"Allison continues to have exceptional control of her pitches and just throws hard," Graves said. "Lacie, you hate to say she started the year slow, but she did. She was overcoming the flu. She's only gotten stronger as this season has gone along."
Rager is 19th nationally with her six victories. Both Rager and Rinus are coming off season-high eight strikeout efforts in the Eagles' doubleheader sweep of Augusta, Tuesday.
While Carson-Newman has outscored teams 75-20 to open the year, it's come with slow starts. Carson-Newman has scored runs in the first inning of a game just twice. The Eagles lit the lamp twice in a 6-3 win over Claflin and once in an 11-2 run-rule win over Augusta.
Those are the Eagles only first inning runs this year. However, Carson-Newman has been elite at responding to opponent's scoring. Of the Eagles 75 runs this year, 34 have come in unanswered fashion after an opponent has taken a lead on C-N this year.
Carson-Newman has been clobbering home runs left and right to open up this season. The Eagles have drilled 20 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 fifth in the country in slugging percentage with a mark of .617.
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 back to 2-15-18 and a 9-3 loss to King.
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