VIDEO: Vickee Hollifield Interview
JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. – Carson-Newman (29-7, 8-0 South Atlantic Conference) will try to keep one of the best starts to conference play in school history rolling when it takes on Newberry (22-11, 5-3 SAC), Saturday at 1 p.m. at the Vickee Kazee-Hollifield Softball Complex.
The Eagles have won their first eight South Atlantic Conference games for the first time since 2006. A sweep of the Wolves Saturday would mean the Eagles started SAC play 10-0 for the first time since 1995 and just the third time in school history.
The 1993 and 1991 teams hold the best conference starts in school history. Both those teams ran the table in SAC play with 12-0 records to win the league.
The Eagles are also the owners of the Southeast Region's longest active winning streak at 15 games. It is tied for the ninth best win streak in school history. With a sweep, Carson-Newman would match its last double-digit win streak, 17 wins in-a-row in 2010, for the seventh best win streak in school history.
C-N's 15-game win streak is the fifth longest active streak in NCAA Division II. The Eagles trail Harding (21), Colorado Mesa (17), California Baptist (16) and West Florida (16).
The Eagles will look to extend that quality play while playing for legendary Carson-Newman head football coach Ken Sparks, who passed away Wednesday after a five-year battle with cancer.
The Eagles' batting helmets will be adorned with a heart bearing Sparks' signature, representing his iconic phrase, "How's your heart, babe?"
"The most important thing is that Ken is in our heart, and that's the heart that we'll be wearing on our batting helmets," head softball coach Vickee Kazee-Hollifield said. "That's the love he had for Jesus Christ, for Carson-Newman and for us as fellow coaches to challenge us to coach to our kids hearts as well. Coach Sparks has meant so much to Carson-Newman, the community and to me. I'm just thankful for the time I got to spend with him."
The Eagles swept Erskine Wednesday while playing for Sparks on the day he passed away.
The Wolves enter the contest fresh off a split with No. 20 Lenoir-Rhyne. The Wolves rallied to beat the Bears in game one 6-5 before succumbing in the night cap via the run-rule 11-0.
Newberry is one of the best defensive teams in the country. The Wolves rank fourth in the nation and first in the SAC with a .977 fielding percentage that is on pace to break the single-season South Atlantic Conference record held by Lenoir-Rhyne's 2013 team.
The Wolves are led by starting pitcher Devon Morrison, who is two weeks removed from a South Atlantic Conference Pitcher of the Week honor. She is 14-4 with a 2.22 ERA. Opponents are hitting a paltry .208 off her.
Offensively, the Wolves hit .308 as a team, a figure that is impressive, but is fifth in the scoring-happy SAC.
Natalie Willis leads the offense with a .429 batting average, the fifth highest ledger in the league.
Haley Simonds carries the bigger stick though. She's hitting .422 and leads the team with 35 RBI.
Kazee-Hollifield hopes Carson-Newman can put together all three phases of their game.
"This team is finding ways to win," Kazee-Hollifield said. "When one particular facet struggles, another area picks up. We might not hit well, but we'll pitch and defend really well. We're coming away with sweeps instead of splits. The key is to continue to take it one at a time and exclusively focus on Newberry."
First pitch between the Eagles and Wolves is set for 1 p.m. Coverage on the Eagle Sports Network is available at cneagles.com/live.