Softball Looks to Build on Record-Setting SeasonOctober 24, 2013
ANDERSON, S.C. – On the heels of its most successful season in school history, the Anderson softball team will play eight contests against four teams in 2014 that reached the NCAA Division II Tournament last season.
Anderson wrapped up the 2013 campaign with a stellar 40-15 record and made its’ first-ever appearance in the NCAA Tournament after earning a berth in the Southeast Super Regional. The Trojans finished the year ranked No. 12 nationally in the final National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA) poll after catching fire at the Hickory (N.C.) Regional and sweeping the competition en route to a matchup with third-ranked Armstrong Atlantic State University in the Savannah Super Regional.
Anderson entered the NCAA Southeast Regional last May as the sixth-seed and upset third-seeded and nationally 25th-ranked North Georgia, 7-2, in the opener before edging Georgia College, 7-5, and rallying to defeat second-seeded and host Lenoir-Rhyne, 6-3.
The Trojans’ bid for an appearance in the NCAA’s Elite Eight fell shy, as fourth-ranked and host Armstrong Atlantic State defeated AU, 6-5, in 11 innings and 7-2 the following day in Savannah.
“I started putting our schedule together at the end of May,” said Anderson head coach Tommy Hewitt. “It’s a good schedule. We picked up (several schools) that always have good programs. I’m excited that we get to play them.”
After setting a school record for wins in a season a year ago, The Trojans will rely on a core group of seasoned veterans if they are to return to the postseason in 2014. AU ranked in the top 25 nationally in five offensive categories, including slugging percentage (.520), home runs per game (1.05) and runs per game (6.47) a year ago.
Jessica Neidigh was 10th in the nation in triples per contest, eighth in runs scored and 15th with her .457 batting average. Teammate Abby Child was second in the country in walks per game and junior Danielle Swygert was 19th in RBI per contest.
“Last season was amazing,” added Hewitt. “We are still living it and enjoying it every day. Our players are very proud as well. It was exciting. We had a lot of luck along the way and won some close games, which helped us. (Last year’s success) put a target on our back, though. We have to have that luck again this year.”
As an encore, the Trojans’ 2014 slate will consist of a 50-game schedule, including 22 SAC contests, and will include matchups against Chowan, Georgia College, Lenoir-Rhyne, and Wingate, each of whom reached the postseason.
Since joining the South Atlantic Conference for the 2011 campaign, Hewitt’s Trojans have compiled a 100-49 (.671) overall record and stands behind just perennial league powerhouses Lenoir-Rhyne (130) and Carson-Newman (105) and in total number of victories over the past three seasons.
AU opens its 28-game nonconference slate with back-to-back Conference Carolinas opponents, welcoming Lees-McRae to Smethers Field on Sunday, Feb. 2. The Bobcats posted an overall record of 7-40 a year ago and finished 11th in the league with a 2-18 mark, but are expected to return 11 letterwinners from last year's squad.
Four days later the Trojans visit North Greenville for a twinbill in Tigerville, S.C. The Crusaders went 20-20-1 last season and made an appearance in the Conference Carolinas Tournament Championship series as the sixth seed before falling twice to Mount Olive.
Anderson then takes on a pair of Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association teams, including Chowan University at home on Feb. 9. The Hawks, led by Leigh Ward, a 2013 all-region second-team selection, claimed their fourth straight CIAA Northern Division title and their second CIAA Tournament Championship last season, while notching a 26-23 overall record and going 15-1 in the CIAA.
The Trojans travel to Charlotte, N.C., on Feb. 11 to face Johnson C. Smith, which went 11-25 overall and 6-11 in the CIAA and earned a berth in the conference tournament.
AU returns home for a brief doubleheader against GRU-Augusta, formerly Augusta State, on Feb. 15 before hitting the road for the second consecutive season to Orangeburg, S.C. to square off against NCAA Division I opponent South Carolina State a day later. The Diamond Jaguars (18-32, 7-15 PBC) return a trio of seasoned sophomores in the circle in 2014, including Haley Birkle, who recorded a team-best 2.45 ERA and notched a team-high 61 strikeouts a year ago. South Carolina State went 16-27 overall, while posting a 4-10 mark in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference last season.
Following a trip to Lander on Feb. 20, the Trojans open a season-high six-game homestand versus a pair of Peach Belt Conference opponents and another Conference Carolinas foe. AU plays host to Georgia College on Feb. 22 and follows up a day later by welcoming Limestone to Smethers Field. AU defeated the Bobcats three times last season, sweeping the regular-season doubleheader in Milledgeville, Ga., then knocking off GC, 7-5, in the NCAA’s Hickory Regional, as Georgia College finished with a 37-17 record. Limestone earned an appearance in the Conference Carolinas Tournament a year ago after going 22-22 overall and 14-6 in the league.
The Trojans play host to the Peach Belt’s Young Harris on Feb. 27 before embarking on their longest road swing of the campaign, as AU visits Brewton-Parker, Fort Valley State and Georgia Southwestern in a three-day span, March 8-10. Brewton-Parker, an NAIA member, notched a 26-22 record last season, while Georgia Southwestern posted a record-setting season last year. While going 29-26 a year ago, the Lady Hurricanes earned a program-most nine Peach Belt Conference victories and earned a seventh-place finish in the PBC, which was GSW’s best finish in seven seasons in the league.
“That’s always just a good fun trip with really good competition,” noted Hewitt.
The Trojans open conference play on March 15 at home against defending SAC Tournament champion Lenoir-Rhyne, which finished last season with a 37-16 record. AU avenged a regular-season sweep at the hands of the Bears by edging L-R in the finals of the Hickory Regional, capping the regional sweep.
“We open up (conference play) with the best,” said Hewitt. “Our conference is tough. It is great competition.”
AU visits Mars Hill (March 19), then plays host to Newberry (March 22) and Lincoln Memorial on March 26, before closing the month of March by traveling to Wingate. The Bulldogs, who finished the season with a 33-22-1 record, were ousted from the Savannah Regional by host Armstrong Atlantic, while earning their first NCAA Tournament bid since 2009.
Tusculum, the defending conference regular-season champion, visits Anderson on April 1, then AU wraps up its nonconference slate with a trip to rival Erskine two days later. The Flying Fleet posted a 14-24-2 record last season and made an appearance in the Conference Carolinas Tournament as the seventh seed with a 10-9-1 CC mark.
AU plays host to Catawba, the SAC Tournament Runners-Up, on April 5 before heading to Carson-Newman on April 9. Catawba went 32-19 overall last season and tied for fifth in the conference, while the Eagles finished in a tie for third in the SAC, posting a 30-18 overall mark.
The Trojans celebrate Senior Day on April 12, when SAC newcomer Queens University of Charlotte pays a visit, then closes the regular season with a four-game conference road swing. In their final season as a member of Conference Carolinas, the Royals went 23-21 overall and 13-7 in the league, seeing their season come to a close in the Conference Carolinas Tournament.
Anderson travels to Brevard on Apr. 16, then faces the remaining league newcomer, Coker, three days later in Hartsville, S.C. The Cobras closed out their Conference Carolinas’ tenure with a 26-18 overall record and an appearance in the league tournament.
“I am excited about the schedule,” concluded Hewitt. “We have been playing well this fall.”
The 2014 Food Lion South Atlantic Conference Tournament will be hosted by Lincoln Memorial in Harrogate, Tenn., April 24-27.