HARROGATE, Tenn. — A year removed from capturing the first South Atlantic Conference Baseball Championship in school history, the Lincoln Memorial University baseball team must maneuver a daunting schedule filled with nationally prominent competition in 2014 in order to repeat last year’s magic.
The Railsplitters’ 2014 slate is comprised of 48 regular-season games, 20 of which will be hosted at Lincoln Memorial University’s Lamar Hennon Field. All told, the Railsplitters are scheduled to play 24 games against teams represented in the Collegiate Baseball Newspaper Division II preseason poll and 11 games against teams that appeared in the 2013 NCAA Tournament field.
“We’ve challenged ourselves with arguably the toughest schedule in the history of our program,” said LMU coach Jeff Sziksai. “Almost half our games are against teams that either went to an NCAA regional last year, or who appear in the preseason top 25. Playing an incredibly tough schedule will prepare us well for our league, which is outstanding from top to bottom.”
The Railsplitters kickoff the season on Feb. 1 against their highest-ranked opponent of the 2014 campaign, making the annual season-opening trek for a three-game set against the USC-Aiken Pacers. The Trojans debut at No.14 in the Collegiate Baseball preseason poll after making an appearance in the NCAA Southeast Regional last season, ultimately finishing with a 42-12 overall mark.
In addition to that three-game non-conference test, the Railsplitters play four other teams outside of their South Atlantic Conference slate that appear in the preseason national rankings. Lincoln Memorial travels to Bristol, Tenn., on Feb. 19 to square off against King, and those two teams meet again on April 15 at Lamar Hennon Field. King is currently receiving votes in the preseason rankings after going 31-20 in 2013.
The Railsplitters are also slated to travel to Bellarmine for a doubleheader on March 12, to Armstrong Atlantic for a three-game series March 15-16, and to Alabama-Huntsville for a twin bill on March 26. All three of those teams are receiving votes in the preseason poll and two of those three squads appeared in the NCAA Tournament last season. Bellarmine fell one win shy of capturing the NCAA Midwest Regional title, while Armstrong earned the three-seed for the Southeast Regional.
While Lincoln Memorial’s non-conference schedule is formidable, its toughest test will be the long slog through a loaded South Atlantic Conference slate. In total, the Railsplitters play 10 three-game SAC series this season, and four of those 10 foes are represented in the Collegiate Baseball preseason poll.
The Railsplitters host 24th-ranked Catawba for a three-game set on March 7-8, and the Indians enter the 2014 season after winning the SAC regular-season title with a 21-6 league mark. On April 4-5, the Railsplitters host SAC newcomer Coker, who open the season at No.25 in the preseason poll. The Cobras made a splash in their first NCAA Tournament appearance in school history last season, winning the NCAA Southeast Regional to earn a spot in the Division II World Series. Also, the Railsplitters welcome Tusculum to Lamar Hennon Field in the SAC home-opener Feb. 14-15 and travel to Wingate April 18-19 to complete the regular-season slate. Both the Pioneers and Bulldogs are receiving votes in the preseason poll.
Along with Coker, Catawba and Tusculum, the Railsplitters host Brevard (March 21-22) and Anderson (April 11-12) in SAC play. Lincoln Memorial travels to Newberry (Feb. 7-8), Lenoir-Rhyne (Feb. 21-22), Carson-Newman (Feb. 28-March 1) and Mars Hill (March 28-29) in addition to its trip to Wingate.
The 2014 Food Lion South Atlantic Conference Championship is slated to run from April 24-27 in Forest City, N.C. The Railsplitters will be looking to repeat last season’s title run which gave the program its first baseball conference title of any kind since 1959.
“We have lofty goals for the future of our program,” Sziksai added. “Playing teams that are among the best in the country can only help us improve.”