by Benny Benton
WILSON, N.C. – The Barton College softball team will open its 2018 season with three straight road games against 2017 NCAA Tournament participants, a challenging introduction into the program's 48-game schedule announced Wednesday.
The visits to Chowan University, defending Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association (CIAA) tournament champions (36-18 last season) and Lenoir-Rhyne University, South Atlantic Conference (SAC) regular-season co-champions (46-13), will allow Barton second-year head coach Junior Bailey the opportunity to highlight program expectations to a young BC squad that includes 11 newcomers, nine of them freshmen.
"We will be tested immediately by Chowan, and we are very excited to go on the road and play two tough opponents early in the season at Lenoir-Rhyne and Catawba," Bailey said. "We have some great competition set up for us out of the SAC, and also out of the Peach Belt Conference with UNC Pembroke and Francis Marion."
Barton will play its home opener on Wednesday, Feb. 21, against Elizabeth City State University before returning to the road for the Mid-South Classic in Duncan, S.C. The Lady Bulldogs will complete their second straight appearance in that event having played eight of their first 10 games of the year on the road.
"The Mid-South Classic is always tough, as we will have a chance to see teams from a lot of the conferences in the Southeast," Bailey said. "We will really get an idea by that point of how we can do regionally. We have what should be a pretty tough non-conference season to set us up for a competitive run in Conference Carolinas."
Barton will get both league runner-up Limestone College and defending tournament champion North Greenville University at home, Limestone on March 16 and NGU on April 13. The Lady Bulldogs will also host both the key regional matchups against Peach Belt foes, FMU on March 8 and UNCP in the regular-season finale on April 21.
After being road warriors early in the year, the Lady Bulldogs can enjoy the comforts of home down the stretch. Eight of their final 10 games of the regular-season will be held at Jeffries Field, the only exception a doubleheader just down the road at rival University of Mount Olive on April 18.
BC recorded 11 league wins last year in Bailey's first season at the helm, matching a program high for the NCAA Division II era. Despite the squad's youth (second baseman Brittany Jacobs is the team's lone senior and there are only three returning juniors), he hopes to exceed that mark this year.
"We hope that 2018 will show an increased improvement for our team," Bailey said. "We have some great leaders returning and some very good freshman in this class. The bats are strong and our overall speed has increased. We will still have some growing to do as a team because we are very young across the board, but we hope to create some more excitement for Bulldog softball for the future. This team is very hungry and determined to be a competitive force in Conference Carolinas."
NOTE: The 2018 Barton College softball schedule is subject to change. Fans are encouraged to check the softball schedule page on www.BartonBulldogs.com throughout the season to confirm dates, times and locations.