Down South’s South Atlantic Conference 2017 Preseason Rankings

When breaking down the SAC we noticed a surprising trend, this is going to be a very young conference. While this may bode well for the future it leaves a lot of questions for this season.  With all of these questions however there is once constant, Lenoir-Rhyne.  A team that only lost 2 conference games last season returns a bulk of their team who are ready to avenge a regional loss to Pfeiffer.  The only question is how good are they really going to be?

Lenoir-Rhyne is followed by a somewhat of a surprise, Anderson who finished 8th last year, but looks to return to the top of the SAC and fight for an appearance in the regional.  Carson-Newman and Wingate round out the top four, followed by Catawba and Lincoln Memorial for the top half of the conference.  Queens, Newberry, Coker and Mars Hill are the next four while Tusculum and Brevard sit in the last two spots.

1. Lenoir -Rhyne
lenoir-rhyne_athletic_logoLast Year Finish: Finished 1st in regular season. Lost in championship round of conference tournament to Catawba, reached NCAA regionals going 1-2.
2016 Record: 48-13 (20-2)
Returning Players with more than 25 Game Appearances: 11
Players on Down South Watch List: 6

Lenoir-Rhyne took back their precedence as the league favorite last season only dropping 2 games in the conference.  However in the conference tournament they couldn’t get past Catawba.  After a first defeat by Catawba, the Bears made it back to the championship game and forced a second game by beating Catawba in the first championship game, however they did not have enough and fell to Catawba in the deciding game.  Making the NCAA regional they could not get past Pfeiffer, dropping 2 games to the Falcons in the regional round.  

The Bears will be returning an impressive group of athletes including 6 of their 7 players who hit over .300.  This group is headlined by sophomore Erin Boone and juniors Madison Carter and Christina Walker with Boone and Walker each hitting over .400 and Carter being second on the team with total bases.  Offensively, they will need to replace their RBI leader who graduated, but should have enough firepower to be a threat in the 1-9 spots of the lineup.  In the circle the Bears lose their mainstay in Maryann Hoskins who graduated, but returner Emily Kenly threw over 100 innings and sophomore Brandi Parks who logged a 1.63 ERA will help sure up a staff that returns 4 players who saw innings last year.

Big Questions: Can Lenoir-Rhyne jump on a great opportunity?  Statistically and experientially this team has the chance to be something very special.  Falling short in the regional round will be a disappointment for a team that knows how to win. They need to focus on the season and earn home field for the NCAA tournament, this is doable, but this team will have to focus all season in a SAC that is very young.

2. Anderson 
andersontrojans
Last Year Finish: Finished 8th in regular season.  Eliminated from conference tournament by Lincoln Memorial, 0-2 record in tournament.
2016 Record: 29-21 (9-13)
Returning Players with more than 25 Game Appearances: 10
Players on Down South Watch List: 3

Anderson is used to finishing at the top of the conference, and making NCAA regionals in 2013, 2014 & 2015, so to say an 8th place finish is disappointment is an understatement.  Anderson started the season 15-2, but in the month of April they fell apart going 4-11 including being swept by Carson-Newman, Catawba and Wingate.  The Trojans held on for a spot in the conference tournament however lost their first two games to be eliminated from the postseason and the first time to not head to regionals since 2012.  

Anderson will have the power returning for this season headlined by junior Cailah Niles who hit over .400 with 11 homeruns and led the team in 8 offensive categories.  The Trojans hit 40 homeruns and will return all but 6 of those homeruns while also returning 6 players in double digit RBI.  Anderson will also be bringing in sophomore transfer Breanna Hagerty from Spartanburg Methodist who hit 10 homeruns last season.  To bolster this power on the other side all pitchers who saw innings will be returning, including 2 arms who threw over 100 innings. Seniors Augie Pena and Lauren Rudesheim will anchor the staff that threw a 2.31 ERA.

Big Questions:  Can the bats return to make Anderson a power again?  We believe last season was an outlier for Anderson, but the bats need to come back. The team posted a .265 batting average last season and in 16 of ther 21 losses scored 2 runs or less including 9 of those being shutout losses.  The Trojans have everything they need to climb back to the top including experience, now they just have to hit.

3.  Carson-Newman
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Last Year Finish: Finished 4th in regular season.  Eliminated from conference tournament by Wingate, 1-2 record in tournament.
2016 Record: 30-21 (14-8)
Returning Players with more than 25 Game Appearances: 4
Players on Down South Watch List: 2

Carson-Newman started out 2016 great going 12-5 but at the end of the season the wheels fell off by going 3-7 in the last 10 games.  The Eagles also struggled against good competition going 1-5 against PBC teams and were swept by Limestone.  In the tournament Carson-Newman got past Lincoln Memorial but were defeated by Lenoir-Rhyne and Wingate to be eliminated from postseason play.

Carson-Newman will only return one player who hit over .300 last season in junior Kristen Toppell who also led the team with 35 runs.  However, the Eagles biggest weapon last year Lindsay Dean who should be a junior is not on Carson-Newman’s roster.  With her absence the Eagles lose her team high 13 homeruns, and 41 RBI.  While offensively they have some holes defensively Carson-Newman has the luxury to have a 200 plus inning pitcher returning in senior Allison Webster.  Webster posted a 2.19 ERA in her 223.1 innings pitched while logging 254 strikeouts, good enough for a 7.96 K/game ratio.

Big Questions: Can Carson-Newman ride Webster this season?  The Eagles will need to find some offense to help Webster the lone senior of the roster.  This will be another young team in the SAC having 14 of their 18 roster players as underclassman, 8 of which are freshman.  Run support will need to be given to this pitching staff who last year saw the team lose 14 of their 21 games scoring 2 runs or fewer.

4.  Wingate
wingate
Last Year Finish: Finished 3rd in regular season.  Eliminated from conference tournament by Queens, 2-2 record in tournament.
2016 Record: 32-16 (15-7)
Returning Players with more than 25 Game Appearances: 5
Players on Down South Watch List: 3

While a 3rd place finish in the SAC and a winning record seems good I can assure you this season was not up to Wingate’s standard of success.  This team had some great wins including wins over North Georgia and Georgia College and 2 game sweeps of Limestone and Catawba.  However they also had disappointing losses to Mars Hill and Newberry as well as being swept by Belmont Abbey to start the season.  For a team that had the opportunity for a NCAA regional bid they feel just short with bad losses and then being knocked out of the tournament by Queens.

With a team that had 6 seniors last season there is going to be some holes the Bulldogs will need to replace.  Offensively sophomore Naomi Watt and senior Katie McLaurin will be the driving force with both hitting over .330 last season.  Senior Misty Doran will return some power to the lineup after hitting 10 homeruns last season and a team high 46 RBI.  In the circle the Bulldogs welcome back sophomore Rachel Widener who pitched over 100 innings and posted a 2.74 ERA with an 11-4 record.  

Big Questions:  Did too much leave for Wingate?  With the big graduating class and primary arm Stacey Houser gone the cabinet is bare for Wingate, however their 5 players who return with experience are a solid foundation.  Wingate will have 12 underclassmen including 7 freshman while only returning 5 upperclassmen.  Early on may be rough, but the talent is there for Wingate to make the move at the end of the season if their underclassmen can develop quick enough.

5.  Catawba
c-1237-poster-23e821bc-09bd-47ba-996d-2d77651b1d26Last Year Finish: Finished 2nd in regular season.  Won conference tournament championship, reached NCAA regional going 1-2.
2016 Record: 39-16 (18-4)
Returning Players with more than 25 Game Appearances: 7
Players on Down South Watch List: 0

Catawba rode graduate pitcher Carly Tysinger as much as they could to a second place finish in the SAC and a conference tournament title.  In the regional round the Indians were able to upset Georgia College in the first round, however their bats fell silent in the next to games being shut out by North Georgia and Georgia College in the next two games to be eliminated from regional play.  

Catawba does return their most effective offensive weapon in senior Kristen Stinnard who hit .364 with the most at bats and had 15 stolen bases while scoring a team high 28 runs.  However the big power in the lineup has graduated, on a team that only hit 21 homeruns they return only 6 homeruns and of the 9 players who hit double digit RBI they only return 4.  On the mound Tysinger pitched 297.0 of their 381.0 innings.  This leaves the team with 2 pitchers who saw experience and senior Caroline Turner being the most with 62.0 innings and a 3.50 ERA.  

Big Questions: Who is stepping up to keep Catawba at the top?  The pitching and power from last season has graduated and now it is time for a new class to step up and try to continue the Indians success. Catawba will bring in 7 freshman, 2 of which are pitchers to try to fill spots left by last years class.  It will be up to the 3 seniors to bring this team around, but we foresee some growing pains and a lot of separation anxiety from last years class.

6.  Lincoln Memorial
lmurailsplitters
Last Year Finish: Finished 5th in regular season.  Eliminated from conference tournament by Queens, 1-2 record in tournament.
2016 Record: 24-28 (11-11)
Returning Players with more than 25 Game Appearances: 8
Players on Down South Watch List: 1

Lincoln Memorial won their last 4 conference games to finish at .500 and earn the 5th seed in the conference tournament.  In the tournament the Railsplitters fell in the first round to Carson-Newman, but eliminated Anderson before falling to Queens.  Lincoln Memorial struggled all season against the top teams going 2-6 against the top 4 teams in the conference.  Against PBC competition they went 1-9 and were swept by Limestone and Erskine from the CC.  

The Railsplitters will return two players who hit over .330 including their best offensive threat from last season, senior Jennifer Moose.  Moose led Lincoln Memorial in 8 offensive categories including her 10 homeruns, 12 stolen bases, and 36 RBI.  Sophomore, Allie Jones was second on the team with 6 homeruns and tied with Moose with 36 RBI.  In the circle they return only 1 pitcher who saw action, but luckily it was their inning leader, junior Brianna Taylor.  Taylor tossed 158.1 innings with a 3.09 ERA.  

Big Questions: Can Lincoln Memorial take the next step?  They are one of the few teams returning some key players in a very young SAC, but these players need to take their game to the next level to be competitive.  On offense their power will need to carry the team while Taylor will need to step up her game in the circle to a sub 2.50 era for Lincoln Memorial.  Another team with more underclassman (6 freshman and 4 sophomores) the 4 seniors will be looked on heavily to lead this team if they want any success.  

7.  Queens 
1581416_mktg_logoLast Year Finish: Finished 6th in regular season.  Eliminated from conference tournament by Lenoir-Rhyne, 3-2 record in tournament.
2016 Record: 25-27 (11-11)
Returning Players with more than 25 Game Appearances: 8
Players on Down South Watch List: 3

Last year Queens could never find their rhythm by splitting most of their wins and losses to finish right at .500.  Wins over Armstrong State, Wingate and Mount Olive were balanced out by losses to Mars Hill, Anderson, and Lincoln Memorial.  In the tournament however the Royals were able to make some noise with a first round upset over Wingate and then eliminating Lincoln Memorial and Wingate before falling to Lenoir Rhyne in the semifinals.

This season head coach Stacey Schramm comes back after a stint at DI George Washington.  Coach Schramm will return 2 of the 3 players who hit over .300, juniors Ashton Whitaker and Elaina Frantellizzi.  Fellow Junior, Abby Latham also returns as the homerun leader for the Royals.  On the mound Queens returns 1 of their 3 pitchers who saw innings in junior Evie Scott who pitched 105.2 innings.  

Big Questions:  What type of pitching staff will Queens have?  They are returning a 100 inning pitcher however she had a 5.10 ERA on a staff with a 4.39 ERA.  There are 2 pitchers with the 8 member freshman class and it will be based on how they develop.  Schramm has started the rebuilding process but this year may be tough with a team that has as many freshman (8) as other classes (1 sophomore, 6 juniors, & 1 senior).

8.  Newberry
wolves-red-logoLast Year Finish: Finished 7th in regular season.  Eliminated from conference tournament by Wingate, 0-2 record in tournament.
2016 Record: 28-22 (9-13)
Returning Players with more than 25 Game Appearances: 8
Players on Down South Watch List: 1

Newberry looked like a team primed to make things happen, sitting at 19-7 before the start of conference action.  This included sweeps against Pfeiffer and UNC Pembroke, and splits with Erskine and Mount Olive.  However the Wolves could not transfer their winning ways into conference play going 9-15 to close out the season.  Splits with Mars Hill, Tusculum, and Brevard overshadowed their sweep of Anderson.  Against the top 6 teams in the conference the Wolves finished with a 2-10 record.  In the conference tournament Newberry lost two straight to be eliminated from the post season.

Senior Christina Linton and junior Hailey Drawe will return with batting averages over .330 for the Wolves.  Linton returns as Newberry’s leader in 10 offensive categories while Drawe tied with Linton with 36 runs and posted a .338 batting average while leading the team with 12 stolen bases.  The Wolves wil return only 1 pitcher who saw action, junior Devon Morrison who threw 128.0 innings with a 2.52 ERA.  Newberry is bringing in 2 freshman pitchers and junior college transfer Emily Marchbanks.  

Big Questions:  Which team will we see, the one who started last season or ended?  Inconsistency can be a killer, but seeing your stats and record fall in conference play is not helpful.  Newberry was on a great trend to stay successful in the SAC after sitting at fourth in the previous 2 seasons.  Pitching will need to step up and keep the team ERA at a 2.50 to get back to their winning ways.

 

9. Coker 
coker-collegeLast Year Finish: Finished 12th in regular season, did not make conference tournament.
2016 Record: 15-32-1 (6-16)
Returning Players with more than 25 Game Appearances: 11
Players on Down South Watch List: 2

In the previous 2 seasons Coker was able to finish 8th in the SAC however last season was a whole other animal.  Coker started the season looking to return to form going 7-0-1 in their first 8 games including a win and tie against UNC Pembroke.  Coker also notched wins against Limestone and King and losing a 9 inning game to powerhouse North Georgia 1-0.  In conference Coker’s only sweep was against Brevard while getting other quality wins against Carson-Newman, Lincoln Memorial and Anderson.

While 2016 may not have been what the Cobras wanted they will return some key players headlined by senior Riley Morris who led the team with batting average and slugging percentage.  Homerun leader sophomore Maria Williamson will also be coming back to the Cobras offense.  The pitching staff will return all 4 players who say action this last season and posted a staff ERA of 3.66.  In the circle inning leader sophomore Taylor Forehand will be returning with her 3.19 era.

Big Questions:  For the first time it may not be pitching for a team as Coker has a good core group returning for this season, the real question is the offense for the Cobras.  Coker scored 2 or less runs in 22 of their 32 loses and if you take it up to 3 runs you add 4 more loses to that total.  If Coach McCall can get the bats going Coker may surprise a few teams in the SAC, if not it may be another long season.

10.  Mars Hill
629f5e19e28866f8adec30fb0e7e86a5
Last Year Finish: Finished 9th in regular season, did not make conference tournament.
2016 Record: 16-27 (7-15)
Returning Players with more than 25 Game Appearances: 10
Players on Down South Watch List: 3

The 2016 season was up and down for Mars Hill who had great wins against Wingate, Queens and Limestone, but then a bad loss to Coker and a series sweep by Brevard.  With a chance to still get into the postseason the Lions were swept by Lincoln Memorial and a loss to Coker made their chances disappear failing to make the postseason since 2013.  

The Lions will return 4 of their 6 hitters who posted a batting average over .300.  Senior Kayleigh Jonas returns with a .374 batting average and leading the team with 36 runs scored while RBI leader junior Taylor Lail returns her 5 homeruns and 31 RBI with a .333 batting average.  On the mound Mars Hill will return 4 of their 5 pitchers who saw innings last season, senior Sheby Culler will be the only returner with an ERA below 5.00 posting a 3.07.  The Lions do add two big transfers with Jordan Harris from Appalachian State and pitcher Dre Crowe from Western Carolina.

Big Questions: On paper we can not quite figure out Mars Hill, they look to have all the tools but can not transfer it into wins.  We will need to see Mars Hill have a winning attitude this season to get back to being above .500. Pitching is a big key to this as last season Mars Hill hit .300 but their opponents hit .317 and scored 40 more runs.

11.  Tusculum
tusculum1
Last Year Finish: Finished 10th in regular season, did not make conference tournament.
2016 Record: 21-31 (6-16)
Returning Players with more than 25 Game Appearances: 14* (no 2017 roster published at this time)
Players on Down South Watch List: 0

In 2013 Tusculum claimed the SAC regular season championship, since then they have not seen a winning season.  In their last 14 games the Pioneers went 4-10 to keep them from a chance at a winning season and the conference tournament.  A weak schedule did not benefit the Pioneers who went 1-3 against PBC competition and were swept by Pfeiffer, Lee and Milligan in out of conference play.  However it is not all negative, Tusculum was able to split the final 4 series including wins against Carson-Newman and Catawba in their final game of the season.

Tusculum who has not posted their final 2017 roster at this time looks to return a bevy of talent.  If they are able to return all eligible players they should have 2 of their 3 hitters above .300 return for the season.  They will also be returning all of their pitchers including two 100 plus inning pitchers headlined by Cayla Cecil who had a team best ERA of 3.34.

Big Questions:  We are limited to what we know because we are not sure on the roster but if trends repeat themselves they will have players returning with experience, but these players must improve.  The Pioneers only logged 8 team homeruns and a .259 batting average while their opponents had 24 homeruns while hitting .323.  The pitching staff also needs help posting a team ERA of 4.24 while opponents had a 2.29.  If Tusculum wants to get back to their winning ways there are a lot of fixes needed in this upcoming season, and at this time we have no idea if they have those fixes.

12.  Brevard
bctornadowebLast Year Finish: Finished 11th in regular season, did not make conference tournament.
2016 Record: 19-35 (6-16)
Returning Players with more than 25 Game Appearances: 6
Players on Down South Watch List: 0

Brevard was another SAC team to post a pretty easy schedule for the season.  Playing first year program Converse 4 times did not help their rankings, however the Tornados were able to notch a quality win against Young Harris.  However, they went 1-3 against PBC teams and 0-4 against CC teams if you remove their 3-1 record against Converse. For a team that was picked to finish last the team did get good SAC wins over Anderson, Newberry, and Lincoln Memorial while sweeping Mars Hill.

Brevard does look to return their 3 top offensive weapons however on their 2017 roster only lists 10 players for the upcoming season.  Senior Lauren Parker will be the biggest bat hitting .368 last season.  Ricki Kuhn will be the only pitcher returning with experience after throwing 88.1 innings with a 4.68 ERA.

Big Questions: Who is playing? With only a 10 team roster listed for Brevard we are not sure they have the depth to be competitive in DII softball.  All we can say is we will sit back and wait, but it does not look they are asking to be competitive in the last year in DII before they head off to DIII.  

 

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