GAFFNEY, S.C. – Coming off of a 31-win season, Carson-Newman looks to open the 2020 season with a winning streak playing a three-game series at Limestone starting at 1 p.m. on Saturday before the series wraps up on Sunday at noon.
"We are excited about what has transpired over the last couple weeks since we haven't gotten back," Carson-Newman coach Tom Griffin said. "Our upperclassmen have done a really good job as far as setting the tone of how we are going to prepare. You come off of a month break. The leaders of the club made sure that when we come in here's what we are going to do each and every day to get prepared. I think that's a credit to them to have them ready for the start of the season."
C-N plays at Limestone to open the season for the third straight season going 4-3 over the past two years.
Griffin's team is playing five games away from home to open a year for the first time since 2016 when the club opened the year 0-4 before defeating Shorter on Feb. 10. That season saw the Eagles race through the South Atlantic Conference Tournament before being upended by Tusculum in the final game before the championship. Since 2015, the program is 47-54 on the road.
Carson-Newman has produced four straight winning seasons, its longest such streak since registering a string of that length came over a nine-year period from 2002 to 2010. During that time, the Eagles are 144-106 with a pair of 31-win campaigns.
February was a friendly month for the Eagles who found themselves ranked in the top 25 twice thanks to a 14-3 start to the year. Offensively, the club blasted 19 home runs and scored 153 runs while stealing 40 bags. On the mound, the hurlers combined for a 4.40 ERA limiting teams to a .252 batting average piling up 161 punch outs over 137 innings.
The 2020 years marks the 26th straight campaign that Carson-Newman will open the year on the road since it last hosted an opener in 1992. Since 1990, the Eagles are 12-18 on opening day. Last year, C-N broke up a four-game losing streak in the first contest of the year beating the Saints 9-5 behind four home runs, their most in nearly two years.
Entering this weekend, the two programs have squared of 37 times with the Eagles holding a 20-17 overall lead despite going 9-16 in the Palmetto State. C-N won four of the five affairs in 2019 thanks to a strong offense that racked up 42 runs and stole 11 bases. On the rubber, C-N's pitching staff struck out 51 in 40 innings and posted a 3.60 ERA.
Limestone is slated to join the SAC as a full-time member next season but is looking to put one final stamp on Conference Carolinas. A year ago, the Saints finished 17-31 with an 11-15 league mark. The team did defend the home field to a 10-13 record. Coach Chris Wiley's team won four the final five regular-season games before dropping a 12-7 elimination game in the conference tournament to Emmanuel.
"It's always been a competitive affair with Limestone," Griffin said. "We know that they have a veteran club. They have a lot of guys returning. You always look to have a veteran club because there is less learning curve that takes place. They have some experience. That will be a challenge. Anytime you are opening up at home that's exciting for those guys. We know it's going to be competitive because it has been every year."
With national powers North Greenville and Mount Olive at the top of the preseason poll, Limestone was predicted to finish seventh in the 10-team league. Chase Allen, an all-region power hitter, graduated after finishing his career with 55 homers and 177 RBIs in 172 games.
Despite the loss of Allen, Wiley has plenty of experience on his roster led by Trace Whetsell who hit .311 and Matt Hildebrandt who blasted 10 homers last year. Brian Forbes, a junior college All-American from Herkimer County College, is the key newcomer after tallying 16 long balls and 66 RBIs leading the school to the NJCAA DIII World Series.
On the mound, Eric Mullinax and Michael Sholtis return looking to improve a pitching staff that posted a team ERA of 6.26. Defensively, the Saints were one of the best fielding teams in the country with a team percentage of .966, good for second in the league and 54th in Division II.
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