HICKORY, N.C. – Carson-Newman opens its 2020 South Atlantic Conference schedule with a three-game series at Lenoir-Rhyne starting with a twin-bill on Saturday starting at 2 p.m. with the series wrapping up on Sunday at 1 p.m.
"L-R has a good club," Carson-Newman coach Tom Griffin said. "He has an outstanding staff. Coach Ramirez has been a winner everywhere he has been. I know those guys will be very well coached and competitive. There's no doubt about that because of his track record and what he's done. You are playing on the road, it's going to be a challenge."
Griffin enters the weekend needing one victory to notch No. 600 of his career. The 23-year veteran, the last 15 at Mossy Creek, between Tusculum and the Eagles would become the 37th active skipper to reach that tally among Division II skippers. He is second among SAC coaches behind Catwba's Jim Gantt, who is in the top 15 nearing 850.
Carson-Newman (9-4) ended the 2019 season on a seven-game SAC winning streak sweeping Coker and Queens to close out the season. The last loss in league play for the crew came in the middle game of a three-game set against ninth-ranked Newberry on April 6. The string is tied with Colorado Mesa for the fourth-longest streak in the country. North Greenville and Augustana have won nine in a row and Bellarmine has an eight-game streak.
The Eagles have been excellent to start SAC play in recent memory winning six of its last seven league openers with the lone blemish coming on Feb. 24, 2017, a 10-7 loss at Catawba. C-N has opened the year with a sweep in five of the last eight years. Overall, the program is 18-11 in the first conference outing of the year and 17-11-1 in the opening series.
Lenoir-Rhyne (7-5) has been the foe for the Eagles 93 times with C-N holding a 60-33 all-time edge but is trailing the series in games play in Hickory, 19-17. Due to scheduling changes, this is the first trip for the unit since March 21-22, 2014 with C-N hosting series in 2015, 2017 and 2018.
The Eagles have won seven of the last 10 taking the most recent series, a three-game set at Mossy Creek on April 13-14, 2018. In the three-game series, the Eagles turned eight double plays while making just two errors in the field while L-R made seven on the weekend. Ethan Goforth finished the weekend by going 7-for-12 with three RBIs and five runs scored to pace the offensive attack for the group. Matt Bradley (Talbott, Tenn.) logged six shutout frames in his SAC debut guiding the Eagles to 5-0 win in the finale.
Chris Ramirez took over the Lenoir-Rhyne program on June 5 taking over the Bears after coaching at Illinois Springfield where he was the 2018 NCBWA National Coach of the Year. He led the school top five national rankings in 2018 and 2019 going to a super regional in 2019.
After a four-game skid dropped the school to 2-5, Lenoir-Rhyne has won five straight affairs backed up by strong pitching that has given up seven earned runs and fanned 40 batters. It has brought the team's pitching numbers to the middle of the pack although the club walks nearly six batters per nine innings ranking 11th in the league.
After going 9-16 at home a year ago, the Bears are undefeated at home, 5-0, this season have won each of their last seven since an 11-4 setback to Wingate on April 15. Diving into the numbers the team is hitting nearly 90 points higher at home scoring 17 more times. On the mound, the hurlers have yielded a 1.54 ERA compared to a 7.87 in road outings.
One of the team's top starting pitchers this year, John Grigg, was the winning pitcher in game two of 2018's three-game series. The right-hander allowed two earned runs and struck out six over six innings in an 8-5 win. Opening this season he has a pair of five shutout inning efforts but gave up five earned at Mount Olive on Feb. 9.
Preseason second-team All-SAC pick E.J. Ranel has logged seven at-bats this season. Six different players have racked up double-digit hits to start the year with Mike McHugh's two homers leading the charge.
Follow @CNathletics for all of the latest news and notes during the three-game series with full coverage provided on cneagles.com.
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