VIDEO: Michael Graves Interview
JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. – When Carson-Newman (24-9, 9-9, South Atlantic Conference) and Newberry (29-13, 11-7 SAC) collide Monday, major South Atlantic Conference regular season title and Southeast Regional seeding implications will be on the line.
The Eagles are ranked third in the initial Southeast Region rankings, while the Wolves checked in in sixth. The teams square off at the Vickee Kazee-Hollifield Softball Complex at 1 p.m. Monday.
"This has been interesting," head softball coach Michael Graves said. "It's certainly been fun and entertaining down the stretch. Unfortunately we've made things a little harder on ourselves losing a couple one-run games. It at least sets up for an exiciting finish. The girls mindset has been great. They see it as a two-game regular season."
Carson-Newman can chase down a league-best 16th regular season title and its third in five years with a sweep of Newberry and a little help. Carson-Newman got some of that help in the form of a sweep of Anderson by Coker.
The Eagles would also need Catawba to pick up one win from Lincoln Memorial and Queens to split with Mars Hill. In that scenario, Newberry would also win its first SAC title since 1999. The Wolves can clinch their first outright SAC title with a sweep.
To do so, Newberry will have to put a halt to an 11-game losing streak at Carson-Newman. The Wolves haven't won at Mossy Creek since 2007. The Wolves won game one of a doubleheader 3-1 before Carson-Newman pounded out a 12-3 win in the nightcap that day.
While the Eagles could be staring down a SAC regular season championship, thanks to the strangeness in the SAC this year, the Eagles could also miss out on a defense of two straight SAC tournament titles.
A win by Carson-Newman and the Eagles clinch a spot in the tournament, two losses by Lenoir-Rhyne to Tusculum would also do the trick. Should Carson-Newman get in, don't ask us where C-N will be seeded though. There are 85 different tiebreaker scenarios provided by the league office to sort through the absolute mess of the SAC softball standings.
Regardless, this year shapes up to be an unprecedented year in the SAC. No more than two teams have shared a South Atlantic Conference Championship. That's happened five times, and C-N has been involved in three of them. Carson-Newman and Lenoir-Rhyne shared the title in 2000, 2008 and 2017. Anderson and Lenoir-Rhyne shared it in 2014. Wingate and Newberry were co-champions in 1999.
No team with seven losses has ever won a SAC title, let alone eight or nine. In 2014 when Anderson and L-R shared the crown, both teams were 16-6 in league play.
Through it all, the Eagles will be honoring a trio of seniors. Allison Rager (Elkview, W.Va.), Peyton Bacon (Greeneville, Tenn.) and Ashlyn Cooper (Friendsville, Tenn.) will all be playing in their final regular season games at The Vick.
Rager is a one-year transfer for Carson-Newman from Morehead State. In her one year at Mossy Creek, she's slammed seven home runs. In the circle, she's been dominant with the fourth lowest ERA in the SAC at 2.32.
Cooper is hitting .260 for her senior season, the highest batting average of her career. She has 13 career home runs, including four this year. A three-run blast against Lenoir-Rhyne earlier this year gave Carson-Newman a 6-5 win over Lenoir-Rhyne.
Bacon has been Carson-Newman's team chaplain in her senior year. The team leader has logged a three-game hitting streak heading into her final games at The Creek,
The matchup features two players battling it out for the league's batting average crown. Newberry's Natalie Willis comes in with a .433 average, while Abby Fiessinger is hitting .431.
First pitch between the Eagles and Wolves is set for 1 p.m. Monday. Coverage of the games will be available on the Eagle Sports Network at cneagles.com/live.