ANDERSON, S.C. – On the heels of winning its first South Atlantic Conference regular-season title since joining the SAC in 2011, the No. two seeded Anderson University softball team will square off against seventh-seeded Carson-Newman in the 2014 Food Lion South Atlantic Conference Championship Thursday at Lincoln Memorial’s Dorothy Neely Field. First-pitch versus the Eagles is slated for 3 p.m.
Thursday’s contest marks Anderson’s third consecutive appearance in the conference tournament and its second straight as the No. two seed. The Trojans also entered last years’ tourney as the second seed, but stumbled and were eliminated after dropping two straight decisions. But AU bounced back as an at-large selection in the NCAA’s Hickory Regional, winning three straight contests en route to an appearance in the Southeast Super Regional in Savannah, Ga.
Led by six All-South Atlantic Conference honorees, Anderson (38-10, 16-6 SAC) wrapped up the regular season with a three-game win streak and claimed victories in 14 of its last 15 contests to claim a share of the SAC regular-season title, alongside Lenoir-Rhyne.
AU leads the South Atlantic Conference in runs scored, home runs, RBI, total bases, batting average, slugging percentage and on-base percentage while ranking second in total hits and walks. The Trojan pitching staff posted 14 shutouts on the season, which ranked second only to Lenoir-Rhyne’s 16 shutouts. The trio of junior Katelynn Howser (15-5) and freshmen Lauren Rudesheim (16-4) and Augie Pena (7-1) held opponents to a .220 batting average, which was fifth-best in the SAC and posted a combined 237 strikeouts in more than 303 innings pitched, which ranks third in the league.
The potent Trojan offense features six players hitting better than .300 on the season, including four among the league’s top 11 hitters. Two-time First-Team All-SAC honoree Molly Child has blasted a pair of grand slams this season and leads the conference with a career-best 13 home runs. The LaGrange, Ga. native ranks 24th nationally in home runs and is third in the conference in batting average (.416) and ranks in the top four in the SAC in seven additional offensive categories, including runs (55), hits (67), total bases (116), on-base percentage (.481) and slugging percentage (.720). Child reached base in 24 consecutive contests at one point during the season, including an 18-game hitting streak. The center fielder also performs on defense, having started 103 games during her two-year career and has not committed an error.
First baseman Danielle Swygert, is just behind Child in the league’s statistical rankings, as the two-time first-team all-conference award winner boasts a .408 batting average and wrapped up the regular-season fourth in the league in that category and was fourth with her .704 slugging percentage. The senior also ranks third in the SAC with 51 RBI, fifth in on-base percentage (.479), seventh in doubles (13), eighth in hits (58) and home runs (9) and ninth in runs scored (40). Over the final five games of the regular season, Swygert posted three homers and drove in nine runs.
Junior second baseman Jessica Neidigh, who has earned postseason conference honors for three consecutive years, leads the league and is 20th in the nation with 56 runs scored and also paces the SAC with 24 stolen bases. Neidigh has been nearly perfect on the base paths, as the leadoff hitter is 61-of-62 in stolen bases. She also ranks third in the SAC with 65 hits on the strength of an 11-game, a seven-game and a six-game hitting streak, while ranking sixth in batting average (.396) and eighth in on-base percentage (.457).
Fellow senior Abby Child is hitting .374 on the season to claim the 11th spot in the conference rankings, while leading the SAC with 30 walks on the season. The shortstop is tied for second in the SAC along with teammate Courtney Czentnar with 11 home runs and ranks third in runs scored (49), fourth in runs batted in (49) and fifth in slugging percentage (.680). Child has started 193 consecutive games over her four-year career and holds the school record for career RBI, walks and slugging percentage.
Outfielder Courtney Czentnar earlier became the third Trojan in four seasons to earn SAC Freshman of the Year accolades after hitting .348 during the regular season. The right fielder closed the regular season on a five-game hitting streak and is tied with Abby Child with 11 homers on the season. She is sixth with 41 RBI and 16th in the conference with 33 runs scored. Czentnar is 10th in total bases (93), seventh in slugging percentage (.674), 11th in stolen bases (10) and ranks 20th with her .348 batting average.
Junior outfielder Rebecca Martin is hitting a career-high .330 on the season and has belted a career-best seven home runs on the season, which places her 10th in the SAC and ranks sixth on the team with a .569 slugging percentage.
In the circle, Howser earned Second-Team All-SAC accolades after posting a 15-5 mark during the regular season while starting 19 contests in the circle. She tossed nine complete games, including three shutouts, while holding opponents to a .199 batting average. Her 1.69 ERA ranks seventh in the SAC and the right-hander won seven of her final eight decisions, while allowing just 10 earned runs in those eight contests.
Carson-Newman (32-16, 11-11 SAC) was a preseason pick to finish tied for fourth with Catawba in the coaches’ preseason poll, with each garnering one first-place vote.
C-N lost All-American catcher Bri Shoemake and utility slugger Cassie Elliot, however, the Eagles returned 81 percent of their run production from last season. The conference's Player of the Year a season ago, shortstop Brittany Hefner, who recorded a SAC and school-record 75 RBI last season, returned, along with outfielder Kelli Hensley, utility player Elayna Siebert, third baseman Sara Kelley and Braleigh Angel, who hit better than .300 last year. Two others, Caitlyn Lance and Jessica Morgan, returned after seasons where they hit better than .285. Hefner, Hensley and Siebert each a spot on the Preseason All-SAC First-Team.
Hensley and pitcher Kalyn Davis swept the SAC weekly honors in mid-February, after Hensley collected a four-hit day against Belmont Abbey in a sweep for the Eagles. She produced an inside-the-park home run in game two of that series, while Davis picked up a complete game shutout. Davis began her sophomore season with 16 consecutive innings of shutout ball and scattered four hits in the Eagles’ win over Belmont Abbey. Hensley earned the honor for a second time this season on March 11, after helping lead C-N to doubleheader sweeps of Concord and GRU Augusta with multiple hits in each game. Hensley had four RBI for the week, a double and a pair of triples.
Kelley earned league Pitcher of the Week accolades in late February, following a 5-1 week for C-N where the Eagles saw Kelley drive in a run in every contest and notch an extra base hit in every contest. The senior from Ooltewah, Tenn. hit .579 for the week with 11 hits and nine RBI. Kelley drove in three for the Eagles in C-N's 6-0 victory over Limestone to set up head coach Vickee Kazee-Hollifield's 1,000th career win.
Hensley, Kelley and Caitlyn Lance each earned all-conference honors earlier today, as the Eagles enter the tournament on a two-game win streak and have won three of four after wrapping up the regular season by splitting with Tusculum and sweeping Queens.
The Series vs. Carson-Newman
The Trojans and Eagles have met 33 times on the diamond, with Carson-Newman holding a decisive 26-7 advantage in the overall series. The Eagles claimed 24-of-25 meetings, including 19 straight, during the early 2000s, but Anderson holds a 5-4 edge since the Trojans joined the South Atlantic Conference in 2011. The Trojans have won the last five meetings, including a sweep of the last two regular-season doubleheaders and a 2-0 shutout victory in the 2012 South Atlantic Conference Tournament.
The Trojans posted an 8-0 shutout and a 13-2 win past the Eagles earlier this month, as junior Bri Cason went 4-for-5 in the doubleheader, with a walk and a pair of RBI. Swygert was 4-for-6 on the afternoon, with a home run and a double to go along with two walks, five RBI and four runs scored. Molly Child tallied a home run and three singles and scored five times in eight at-bats, while Abby Child notched a double, three singles, two RBI and also crossed the plate five times. Martin posted three hits a walk and an RBI, with Czentnar belting two home runs and driving in six runs. Neidigh and Sieber each added two hits apiece.
Anderson is a combined 9-5 versus the rest of the teams in the tournament after sweeping regular-season doubleheaders with Catawba, Tusculum and Carson-Newman, while splitting twin bills with LMU, Wingate and Brevard. AU was swept by top-seeded Lenoir-Rhyne during the regular season.
Lenoir-Rhyne (38-11, 16-6 SAC), the four-time defending tournament champion, is the top seed and will square off against eighth-seeded Catawba (24-19, 9-13 SAC), with No. 4 Tusculum (30-22, 14-8 SAC) facing the host Lady Railsplitters (26-15, 12-8 SAC) in other opening-round action on Thursday. Third-seeded Wingate (32-16, 14-6 SAC) will meet No. 6 seed Brevard (22-23, 11-9 SAC) in the final first-round matchup.
2014 Food Lion SAC Softball Championship Schedule
Thursday, April 24
No. 4 Tusculum vs. No. 5 Lincoln Memorial, 10 a.m.
No. 3 Wingate vs. No. 6 Brevard, 12:30 p.m.
No. 2 Anderson vs. No. 7 Carson-Newman, 3 p.m.
No. 1 Lenoir-Rhyne vs. No. 8 Catawba, 5:30 p.m.
Friday, April 25
Gm. 1 loser vs. Gm. 4 loser, 10 a.m.
Gm. 2 winner vs. Gm. 3 winner, 10 a.m.
Gm. 2 loser vs. Gm. 3 loser, 12:30 p.m.
Gm. 1 winner vs. Gm. 4 winner, 12:30 p.m.
Gm. 7 loser vs. Gm. 5 winner, 3 p.m.
Gm. 8 loser vs. Gm. 6 winner, 5:30 p.m.
Saturday, April 26
Gm. 9 winner vs. Gm. 10 winner, noon
Gm. 7 winner vs. Gm. 8 winner, 2:30 p.m.
Gm. 11 winner vs. Gm. 12 loser, 3:30 p.m.
Sunday, April 27
Championship game, 1 p.m.
If necessary, 3:30 p.m.
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SOUTH ATLANTIC CONFERENCE TOURNAMENT CENTRAL