North Georgia vs. Lenoir-Rhyne
When: 7:30 tonight
Where: Haines & Carolyn Hill Stadium, Dahlonega
How much: $10 adults, $5 students
DAHLONEGA — The nation’s No. 1-ranked North Georgia College & State University softball program will put its 48-game winning streak on the line tonight when they take on No. 8 Lenoir-Rhyne in the NCAA Division II Super Regional at 7:30 p.m. at the Haines & Carolyn Hill Stadium in Dahlonega.
After defeating Francis Marion University 5-0 in the southeastern regional championship on May 16, the undefeated Lady Saints (48-0) set their sights on the Lady Bears (53-7) who steamrolled through the Southeast Regional in Hickory, N.C. by outscoring their opponents 27-5.
Although the Bears are a high scoring team — 427 total runs on the year — North Georgia coach Mike Davenport isn’t changing his preparatory routine.
“We’ll approach this one just like we have the first 48 games,” he said. “Our focus has always been on (us) and I just think this late in the season you aren’t going to come up with anything differently that you’re going to do.
“We’re just going to prepare and go out and play. The team that comes out on top will be the one that hits better, makes more defensive plays and throws more strikes.”
The Bears also boast the South Atlantic Conference Player of the Year in junior shortstop Kat Rivers. Rivers has collected 22 home runs on the season, good enough to put her into a tie for the national lead.
But Davenport isn’t focusing on Rivers as much as focusing on the whole Bears team.
“We’ve got our scouting report and how we’re going to approach each of their hitters,” he said. “They’re just a solid team and we can’t just focus on one player.
“We really focus on what Sarah (Phillips) is going to do defensively in the circle.”
Phillips is undefeated in the circle this year (41-0) and is coming off a strong performance against Franis Marion. In that game, the junior gave up only four hits, while walking none and striking out eight to earn her 100th win in a Saints uniform.
Phillips has won all seven post-season games for the Lady Saints, dating back to the opening round of the Peach Belt Conference tournament on April 16.
For the Bears, the likely starter for tonight’s game is freshman Alex Smith, who is 25-4 on the year. Smith earned the win against Augusta State on May 15, throwing a complete game while giving up seven hits, four earned runs and striking out nine in a game the Lady Bears won 16-4.
The Bears likely starter for Saturday’s Game 2 is sophomore Dawon Millwood. Millwood is 21-3 on the season with 10 shutouts and is coming off a two-hit, three-strikeout performance against Augusta State in the Southeast Region Championship on May 16.
The Lady Saints’ likely starter for Game 2 will once again be Phillips. Pitching in two games so close together shouldn’t be an issue for the right-hander who has thrown in 85 percent of the Lady Saints’ games this year.
In fact, Davenport believes that Phillips improves the longer she is in the circle.
“A lot of times through the course of the season, she threw better in the second game of a doubleheader than she did in the first game,” he said.
No matter who takes the mound for Lenoir-Rhyne, Davenport and his team will take them seriously.
“They’ve pitched very well throughout the course of the year,” he said. “They’ve played solid defense and their pitchers have thrown strikes.”
In fact, Davenport believes that the Lady Bears are very similar to his team.
“They’re personally is a lot like ours,” he said.
One thing that may separate the two teams is the quality of competition that each has faced this season.
The Lady Bears have lost seven games on the season, and three of those were to Peach Belt Conference members, a conference that the Lady Saints dominated. Among those losses was a 3-1 loss to Francis Marion on March 13.
On the other hand, Lenoir-Rhyne defeated August State, a Peach Belt Conference opponent that they lost to earlier in the season.
So in the end, the game will come down to which team performs when it matters most.
As Davenport said, “The game will be won or lost between the lines.”
The second game of the series will be at 2:30 p.m. Saturday, with the third game, if necessary, to follow at 5 p.m.