ANDERSON, S.C. – On the heels of a season-high six-game road swing, the 14th-ranked Anderson University softball team returns home to welcome preseason South Atlantic Conference favorite Lenoir-Rhyne to Smethers Field on Saturday, with first-pitch set for 2 p.m.
The doubleheader marks the conference opener for both squads, as the Trojans return to Smethers Field for the first time in 12 days after posting a 4-2 record on the road swing through the Peach State. Anderson is 10-2 at home on the season and is coming off a sweep of Clark Atlanta last Tuesday. Lenoir-Rhyne, perennial contenders in the southeast region, enters the twin bill on a three-game win streak.
Saturday’s doubleheader will feature the top two teams in the SAC Preseason Poll, as Anderson was tabbed to finish second in the conference, just behind Lenoir-Rhyne, the defending four-time SAC tournament champions. The Bears, who have claimed eight regular-season league titles, garnered seven first-place votes from the coaches, while the Trojans collected three.
Junior second baseman Jessica Neidigh is on a seven-game hitting streak and has boosted her batting average by nearly 90 points during the seven contests to a team-high .444 on the season. The left-handed leadoff hitter currently ranks third in the league in hitting and is second in the SAC with 36 total hits. She is a perfect 14-of-14 in the stolen base department, tying Lincoln Memorial’s Brianna Mulkey for tops in the conference. Senior shortstop Abby Child is hitting .429 and leads the league with eight home runs, while Molly Child is just behind with six round-trippers. Abby Child also leads the SAC in slugging percentage (.900) and RBI (35), while ranking third on on-base percentage (.544) and runs scored (28). She belted a grand slam versus Clark Atlanta, setting a new school record with 40 career homers.
With her .421 batting average, Molly Child is sixth in the league and is riding a team-best 10-game hitting streak that has improved her average by nearly 60 points since late February. The sophomore center fielder ranks in the top five in the SAC in eight additional offensive categories. First baseman Danielle Swygert is the fourth Trojan to be batting over .400 on the season (.413), which is eighth. The senior has 31 hits and has driven in 23 runs, which ranks fifth and seventh, respectively.
Junior Rebecca Martin currently boasts a career-best .378 batting average and has already slammed a career-high five home runs on the season. Freshman Courtney Czentnar is hitting .356 and is a perfect 5-for-5 in stolen bases to help AU rank fifth in the league with 26 stolen bases on the season, which is just two swipes shy of last season’s total.
In the circle, junior hurler Katelynn Howser (8-1) has a 1.47 ERA, which is seventh in the league and has recorded 58 strikeouts in 62 innings of work. The right-hander is holding opponents to just a .183 batting average. Freshman Lauren Rudesheim (9-2) has made 15 appearances and has 42 strikeouts, while posting a 2.40 ERA. Classmate Augie Pena is 3-1 on the season in 12 appearances and is second in the conference by averaging 10.24 strikeouts per game.
Lenoir-Rhyne, which tied for third in the SAC standings last season after going 37-16 overall and 11-7 in league play, was ousted from the Southeast Regional Championship by the Trojans.
Four Bears earned all-league preseason accolades, including first-teamer Maryann Hoskins, a sophomore pitcher. She was named to the 2013 All-SAC First Team after finishing with a record of 17-8 to go along with a 1.79 earned run average, 10 shutouts and 164 strikeouts. Senior third baseman Haily Jarman, senior outfielder Jody Mizelle and sophomore pitcher Brandi Hole were all named to the all-league preseason second team for the Bears.
Jarman, a three-time All-SAC honoree, led the Bears in hits (55), runs scored (33), slugging percentage (.554), triples (five) and total bases (92) last season to go along with a .331 batting average and 27 runs batted in. Mizelle hit a team-best eight home runs last season with 18 runs batted in while Hole fashioned a 19-8 record in addition to a 2.05 earned run average, five shutouts and 100 strikeouts.
First baseman Sydney Landreth earned SAC Player of the Week honors earlier this month, after hitting .471 (8-for-17) for the week ending March 4, with five runs scored and six runs batted in and led the Bears to a 6-1 week. Landreth hit safely in six of the seven games, including a pair of hits in victories over Lander (7-0) and Columbus State (9-0), respectively, in the Mid-South Classic.
Hole is the reigning conference Pitcher of the Week after tossing her fourth shutout of the season last Sunday at GRU Augusta, allowing only four hits in seven innings while striking out three in a 7-0 Bears win. The sophomore has now thrown complete-game shutouts in her last four appearances. The performance helped lower Hole’s ERA to a conference-best 0.52. She is also tied for the league lead with 10 wins and ranks fourth in strikeouts with 66, just behind teammate Hoskins, who boasts an 8-3 record on the season.
The two L-R hurlers have combined to notch 10 shutouts on the season and are holding opponents to a .176 batting average.
The Bears are 18-5 overall and arrive at Smethers Field riding a three-game win streak. L-R has won eight of its last 10 contests and is a stellar 9-1 at home, while posting a 9-4 record on the road. The Bear are coming off a pair of shutouts, 1-0 and 4-0, past Peach Belt Conference-member UNC Pembroke last Wednesday and the doubleheader at Smethers Field is the final two road games for L-R before the Bears open an eight-game homestand.
The Series vs. Lenoir-Rhyne
The Trojans and Bears have met 14 times, including eight times since Anderson joined the South Atlantic Conference for the 2011 campaign. Lenoir-Rhyne holds a decisive 12-2 advantage in the overall series that dates back to the 2004 campaign. The Bears swept last year’s season series, 3-1 and 4-0, in Hickory, N.C., with the sixth-seeded Trojans avenging the setbacks by rallying to defeat second-seeded Lenoir-Rhyne, 6-3, in the finals of the Hickory Regional, as AU advanced to the Southeast Super Regional in Savannah, Ga.
With the score knotted at 3-3 in the regional title contest, Anderson posted two runs in the bottom of the third inning for a lead that they would not relinquish. Bri Cason led off the home half of the inning with a single and Neidigh singled up the middle with two outs. Swygert then ripped a clutch double to right-center, plating both Cason and Neidigh with the go-ahead runs. The Trojans added another run in the sixth when Neidigh coaxed a one-out walk and crossed the plate on Abby Child’s two-out single.
In the three meetings last season, Swygert was 4-for-10 with a double, a home run and three RBI. Abby Child and Molly Child each singled twice, while Neidigh drew three walks and scored three times.