Lady Eagles fall twice to Lenoir-Rhyne in SAC Tournament championship games

Wingate, N.C.---- The Lenoir-Rhyne Bears amassed 31 hits and 27 runs to sweep a doubleheader from the Carson-Newman Lady Eagles and capture the 2010 South Atlantic Conference Tournament title on Sunday afternoon in Wingate, N.C. The Bears won game one 12-4, and took game two 15-9.

With the losses, the Lady Eagles fall to 36-10 and now await word on a South Atlantic Conference record sixth-consecutive NCAA  Tournament appearance.

Game 1: Lenoir-Rhyne 12, Carson-Newman 4

Wingate, N.C.----The seventh-ranked Lenoir-Rhyne University Bears forced a winner-take-all championship game by defeating second seeded and 22nd-ranked Carson-Newman College 12-4 in six innings Sunday afternoon in the 2010 Food Lion SAC Tournament. The two teams will meet again at 3:30 p.m., with the winner being crowned SAC champions.

LRU Sophomore infielder Carlee Carpenter (Newton, N.C.) and sophomore catcher Sarah Atkins (Newport News, Va.) each went three-for-five with a homer, three RBI and two runs scored to lead the LRU offense. Senior designated player Ashley Duckworth (Conover, N.C.) was two-for-four with a double and four RBI, while senior outfielder Brittany Cherry (Myrtle Beach, S.C.) had a hit, RBI and two runs scored.

Senior infielder Sara Little (Calhoun, Ga.) was two-for-three with a homer and two RBI to lead the Carson-Newman offense. Senior infielder Jessie Howard (Knoxville, Tenn.) was two-for-three with two RBI for the Eagles, while sophomore pitcher Mary Shealy (Clinton, S.C.) was two-for-three with a run scored.

The Bears exploded for five runs in the first, piling up six hits. Carpenter got it started with a two-run homer in the first. Lenoir-Rhyne loaded the bases, and Duckworth cleared them with a  three-run double to left center for a  5-0 lead.

Junior infielder Kat Rivers (Royston, Ga.) scored on an RBI groundout from Duckworth in the second to make it 6-0. An RBI single from sophomore infielder Brittany Davidson (Fort Defiance, Va.) in the fourth made it 7-0. Cherry drew a bases-loaded walk to put the Bears on top by eight.

The Eagles got on the board in the fourth, plating four runs. Little got it started with a  two-run homer to center. Howard added a two-run single to make it 8-4.

The Bears had the answer, scoring four runs in the sixth. An RBI single from Carpenter made it 9-4. Atkins capped the scoring on the afternoon with a three-run homer to center to make it 12-4.

Freshman right-hander Alex Smith (Cocoa, Fla.) got the win, improving to 23-4 on the year. She allowed four runs on eight hits in six innings of work, striking out four. Shealy took the loss, allowing four runs on six hits in three innings of work, falling to 15-5.

Game 2: Lenoir-Rhyne 15, Carson-Newman 9

Wingate, N.C.---- The Lenoir-Rhyne University softball team brought the heavy lumber Sunday, earning the 2010 Food Lion South Atlantic Conference tournament title with a 15-9 victory over number 22 Carson-Newman College in the second of two Championship Sunday games. The seventh-ranked Bears hit .477 in the two Sunday games (31-of-65).

             With the victory, Lenoir-Rhyne improves to 50-7 overall and earns the league's automatic qualification to the 2010 NCAA Division II play-offs. The Carson-Newman Eagles are 36-10 overall; they will await word from the NCAA committee regarding their post-season destination.

            The Bears turned a 5-4 deficit into a 10-4 advantage with six runs (on six hits) in the top of the fourth inning. LRU sophomore second baseman Carlee Carpenter (Newton, N.C.) had the big blow, contributing a three-run homer to the six-run outburst. The round-tripper was her 12th of the season.

            Lenoir-Rhyne struck first, as sophomore catcher Sarah Atkins (Newport News, Va.) blasted her 11th home run to left-center. The Atkins' solo shot gave the Bears an early 1-0 lead. The SAC regular season champions boosted their lead to 4-0 with three unearned runs (on two hits) in the top of the second stanza. Carpenter contributed an RBI single to the three-run second.

            Carson-Newman posted a five-spot in the bottom of the second inning to take the 5-4 lead. Eagle junior outfielder Leah Price (Spring City, Tenn.) stroked a three-RBI triple during the uprising.

            The Bears hit four home runs in the championship tilt. LRU junior shortstop Kat Rivers (Royston, Ga.) hit her team-best 19th long ball in the fifth inning. She matched Carpenter's fireworks, as Rivers' homer was also a three-run shot. Bear junior utility player Brandi Haithcock (Snow Camp, N.C.) hit a solo homer in the top of the seventh inning.

            The Eagles kept battling, as junior center fielder Whitney Durham (Rossville, Ga.) hit a two-run homer in the bottom of the fifth inning. Durham was three-for-four with two runs scored and two RBI for Carson-Newman. In her final Food Lion SAC tourney game, Eagle senior shortstop Jessie Howard (Knoxville, Tenn.) was four-for-five with three runs scored and one RBI.

            Carpenter topped the LRU charts with her three-for-four performance. She scored two runs and posted four RBI. Rivers had three hits and three RBI, while Haithcock matched her teammates with three hits. Two Bears contributed two hits each. Lenoir-Rhyne hit 12 of the 20 home runs in the 2010 Food Lion SAC tournament.

            Lenoir-Rhyne freshman right-hander Alex Smith (Cocoa, Fla.) picked up the win in relief, working 4 2/3 innings. She gave up four runs (three earned) on eight hits. Smith posted six strikeouts and did not walk a batter, nudging her SAC-best record to 23-4 overall. For the tournament, the SAC Freshman of the Year was 5-1 overall and with one save.

            Carson-Newman sophomore righty Mary Shealy (Clinton, S.C.) took the loss in relief. In four innings, she surrendered 10 runs (seven earned) on nine hits. Shealy walked 10 and struck out one.

Carson-Newman College head coach Vickee Hollifield

Opening comments

“It was a tough day for us. I don't want take anything away from Lenoir-Rhyne…they're a great team. We knew we would have to pitch effectively today…and we did not. Lenoir-Rhyne is tough 1-9 in the order…the long ball was very good for them today.”

On her team not giving up…

“Whitney Durham is a tough player. We have five or six players who share her mental toughness. We have areas where we're soft…with more experience, we'll get tougher. I was glad to see the effort we received today from our seniors (Jessie Howard and Sara Little). They did not give up.”

Lenoir-Rhyne University sophomore 2b Carlee Carpenter

Opening comments

“We were on our toes the last three innings of the second game. I know we were feeling some nerves…but everything worked out in the end.”

When asked about her team's performance and the upcoming regional tourney…

“We hit the ball today…we look forward to hosting the regional tournament and the home-field advantage. Hopefully, we will step up our game.”

Lenoir-Rhyne Universityhead coach Shena Hollar

When asked about her team's hitting performance…

“This is the team we've seen this year. They are capable of big offensive numbers.”

When asked about the keys to victory…

“Last night, we told the players…we need to jump on them (Carson-Newman) early. We had one shaky inning…but otherwise, we followed our game plan.”

When asked about freshman pitcher Alex Smith…

“I know Alex was filled with nerves and excitement. Young players seem to follow instructions better. It is (sometimes) harder to get seniors to buy into your philosophy. We did what we needed to do today (to win). We are very excited.”