HARROGATE, Tenn. — With a wide assortment of talented non-conference foes and an expanded South Atlantic Conference slate, the Lincoln Memorial University softball team’s 2014 schedule offers a challenging test for the Lady Railsplitters as they enter the second year of the Natalie Layden era.
The 2014 softball schedule serves up 49 total games and only 16 of those contests will be hosted at LMU’s Dorothy Neely Field. Among this year’s slate, the Lady Railsplitters are poised to compete against five teams that were present on the final Division II national poll of the 2013 season. Including that group, the Lady Railsplitters’ schedule has eight teams who appeared in the 2013 NCAA Softball Tournament.
“Our 2014 schedule is really strong and it will challenge us day in and day out,” Layden said. “This type of schedule will allow us to play nationally-ranked and regionally-ranked opponents throughout the non-conference portion of our schedule. Competing against these teams will only make us stronger and better prepared for our South Atlantic Conference schedule.”
After opening the season on Feb. 5 with a home double-header against Milligan, the Lady Railsplitters travel to Columbus, Ga., for the Cougar Classic Feb. 8-9. Lincoln Memorial opens that event with match-ups against King, Belmont Abbey and Pfeiffer before seeing tournament host Columbus State in the tournament finale. Columbus State earned a bid for the NCAA Southeast Regional last season, advancing to the Southeast 1 Regional final before falling to Armstrong Atlantic. Columbus State finished the season ranked 18th in the final D-II poll with a 41-17 overall mark. The Lady Railsplitters square off against the Cougars again on March 2 in the Mid-South Classic.
From Feb. 16 to March 8, the Lady Railsplitters are scheduled to play nine out of their 16 games against NCAA tournament teams. LMU kicks off that stretch with a double-header at North Georgia. In the Bellarmine Classic (Feb. 22-23 in Louisville) the Lady Railsplitters clash with Ashland, who finished the 2013 season with a 29-19 record. Ashland fell one win shy of advancing to the 2013 Midwest Super Regional.
LMU follows that up with a trip to Greer, S.C., for the Mid-South Classic. Along with their second bout against Columbus State, the Lady Railsplitters take on Alderson-Broaddus, Georgia College, Flagler and Armstrong Atlantic. Georgia College and Armstrong Atlantic made appearances in the NCAA Tournament last season, and the Pirates of Armstrong came within a hair of claiming the national championship.
The Lady Railsplitters play Armstrong Atlantic again on March 8 at the Saint Leo Softball Invitational, which also pits LMU against host Saint Leo and Nova Southeastern. Saint Leo will be Lincoln Memorial’s final non-conference opponent of 2014 to appear in the 2013 NCAA Tournament field.
With the addition of Queens and Coker to the South Atlantic Conference rotation at the start of the 2013-14 academic year, the Lady Railsplitters are scheduled for 22 SAC draws this season coming in the form of 11 league double-headers. LMU hosts five of those series, welcoming Tusculum (March 18), Coker (March 22), Newberry (March 29), Carson-Newman (April 1) and Catawba (April 12) to Dorothy Neely Field. Lincoln Memorial hits the road for two-game SAC sets at Queens (March 15), Anderson (March 26), Lenoir-Rhyne (April 5), Brevard (April 9), Mars Hill (April 15) and Wingate (April 19).
The Lady Railsplitters trek to Wingate on April 19 for the regular-season finale before returning to Harrogate to host the 2014 Food Lion South Atlantic Conference Softball Championship April 23-27. The top eight teams in the final SAC regular-season standings earn a spot in the tournament.