PREVIEW: Pfeiffer and Carson-Newman Battle in Southeast Regional Opener

Photo Sean Meyers
Photo Sean Meyers

#2 Carson-Newman (43-11) vs. #7 Pfeiffer (44-6)
NCAA Division II Southeast Regional #2
Thursday, May 11 - 2:30 p.m.
Armstrong Softball Complex - Savannah, GA
Live stats: http://www.athletics.armstrong.edu/softball/xlive.htm
Live video: https://www.youtube.com/user/thearmstrongpirates

For the third time in program history and second consecutive year, the Pfeiffer softball team will compete in the NCAA Tournament. In its opener, the Falcons take on South Atlantic Conference opponent Carson-Newman at 2:30 p.m. on Thursday at the campus of Armstrong St.

It's been a record season for the Falcons, who enter tournament play with a program-record 44 wins and .880 winning percentage. For the first time in team history, the Falcons received an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament as they earned the automatic bid by winning the conference tournament in 2008 and 2016.

Pfeiffer ranks No. 8 in the NFCA national poll but were slotted as the No. 7 team in the Southeast region when the brackets were released on Monday morning. The Falcons won their first Conference Carolinas regular season title since 2000 thanks to an 18-2 mark in league play but their quest to win back-to-back conference tournaments fell one game short when North Greenville blanked Pfeiffer 4-0 to claim its first-ever tournament title.

Conference Carolinas Freshman of the Year Makenzie Pennell has burst onto the scene in her first season. The third basemen has already shattered the record for most RBI's in a season as her total of 56 is already eight more than the previous mark. The Taylorsville, N.C. native can become the first Falcon to post a batting average above .400 in a single season and her 67 hits are a new single season record.

Sophomore Vada Blue Sherrill followed up a brilliant rookie season with a tremendous second year for the Falcons. The coach's daughter has scored 55 times in 50 games and has gone 40-for-42 in stolen base attempts. In just two season, Sherrill's 113 runs scored and 91 stolen bases are program records.

Centerfielder Chandler Walker was named First Team All-Conference thanks to a great junior campaign. Walker's .346 batting average, six home runs and 38 RBI's are second on the squad. In addition to her strong offense, Walker is a great defensive outfielder regularly making highlight reel catches.

Pfeiffer uses a combination of pitchers to post a team ERA of 1.87. Senior Sydney Poole leads the team in appearances with 29 and has a perfect 14-0 record with a 1.78 ERA. Second Team All-Conference performer Caitlin Christian leads the squad in innings pitched with 103 and has only allowed 62 hits. The freshman has struck out 104 batters and has a sparkling 1.36 ERA to go with 12 wins and five saves. Kiana Millsaps and Kennedy Lester have combined to make 33 starts and have 17 wins.

A year ago, Pfeiffer entered the tournament as the No. 6 seed in the Southeast region and earned their first-ever NCAA Tournament win by defeating Lenoir-Rhyne 4-1. Pfeiffer would beat L-R twice that weekend but couldn't overcome Armstrong St.

Carson-Newman enters the regional fresh off their 10th SAC Tournament title with a 2-0 win over Coker in the final. The Eagles also captured the regular season title and are in the Southeast Regional for a second time in three seasons.

The Falcon offense will have its hands full with SAC Tournament MVP and league Pitcher of the Year Lacie Rinus. Rinus is just the second player in league history to take both Freshman and Pitcher of the Year honors in the same season. She led the conference in strikeouts (196), batting average against (.205), earned run average (1.31) and wins (22).

Four Eagles earned Honorable Mention All-Conference accolades. 2B Abby Fiessinger, SS Kristen Toppel, C KaraLynne Levi and P Allison Webster all earned the distinction.

Carson-Newman has owned the head-to-head series with the Falcons, winning the past 21 matchups. However, this isn't the same Pfeiffer team that C-N has faced.

In 2008, the Eagles defeated Pfeiffer 8-0 in the Southeast Regional opener. The Falcons last head-to-head win came in 2002 by the final score of 1-0.

Tomorrow's matchup will also feature a pair of Coach of the Year award winners. Vickee Kazee-Hollifield was named the SAC Coach of the Year, while Monte Sherrill earned the Conference Carolinas award.     

The winner will move on to face the winner of Armstrong St. vs. Young Harris on Friday at 11 a.m. the loser will take on the loser of that game at 1:30 p.m.