LOOKOUT MOUNTAIN -- For a second straight year, the Covenant softball team made program history. The Lady Scots, under head coach Christine Engbers, rattled off a program-record 23 wins in 2018 and advanced deep into the USA South Tournament for the first time.
Covenant ended the year with a 23-20 overall record and an 8-6 mark in the USA South. The senior class of Kathryn Andrews, Shade Epes, Tyler Epes, Cris Gant, Jami Johnson, Joni Johnson, and Shannon Schmitt comprised a graduating class that totaled 74 wins (tying for the most of any four-year graduating class in program history).
Coupled with its 22 wins in 2017, Covenant has won 45 games over the past two seasons, the most of any two-year stretch in the program's history. The Lady Scots advanced to the double-elimination portion of the USA South Tournament for the first time after knocking off LaGrange in a best-of-3 first round series. Covenant would defeat Meredith in the first round of the double-elimination part of the tournament before falling twice, including to eventual conference champion and NCAA Atlanta Regional runner-up Maryville.
Pitching was key for Covenant throughout the year. The pitching staff put together the second-best ERA in program history at 3.19 highlighted by efforts from sophomore Sarah Huskey and junior Carsyn Stone. Huskey led the team with a 2.42 ERA in 78 innings, while Stone sported a 2.52 ERA in 77.2 innings. Senior Cris Gant came on strong at the end of the year and finished with a 3.36 ERA, and senior Joni Johnson ended with a 2.07 ERA in 23.2 innings.
To go with outstanding pitching, Covenant utilized key hits throughout the season. Shannon Schmitt earned first team All-USA South and All-West Division honors after batting .328 with a team-best 19 RBIs. Freshman Faith Manning batted .316, while senior Shade Epes had a career-best .314 average. Jada Allmon batted .375 in USA South play alone and earned second team All-West Division honors.
GAME OF THE YEAR:
Covenant won eight of its last 10 regular season games, including a win over an Emory & Henry squad that would later be nationally ranked. However, for the program to take a step forward, the Lady Scots needed to get past the best-of-3 first round series in the USA South Tournament.
Facing a LaGrange team on the road that the Lady Scots had split with earlier in the year, Covenant never trailed in the two games of the series and advanced in the tournament with a 4-2 win in game one and a 3-1 game two victory.
Pitching was the hallmark for the team during the year and that continued against LaGrange. Cris Gant tossed a complete-game victory in the opener as she did not allow a hit until one out in the sixth inning and finished off the game allowing two hits, while striking out nine.
Covenant was able to give Gant some run support in the fourth inning. Shannon Schmitt led off with a hit-by-pitch and her pinch-runner, Tyler Epes, eventually advanced to third with two away. Erika Mast came through with a single to center field to score Epes and make it 1-0.
The Lady Scots added two runs in the fifth. Back-to-back singles from Faith Manning and Madalyn Ames started the frame and Carlin Labuzan delivered a two-run single that plated both runners to give Covenant a 3-0 lead. Covenant would add an insurance run in the sixth when Manning singled home Shelby Ralston to make it 4-0.
Huskey made the start and went five innings, scattering eight hits and striking out one. Johnson came on in the sixth and threw two scoreless innings to collect the save and give Covenant the win.
Covenant got on the board with two runs in the second inning. With two outs and nobody on, Mast and Shade Epes recorded consecutive singles to put runners at first and second. Manning kept the line moving as she doubled to left-center field, scoring both runners to give Covenant a 2-0 lead. In the third inning, Covenant was back at it again. Madyson Gibbins led off with an infield single and later scored on a Schmitt single to center field to make it 3-0.
The Panthers looked poised to tie, or take the lead, in the sixth inning. The first two batters singled and later moved to second and third with one away. After Johnson got a weak pop out for the second out, LaGrange's Katelin Richardson drove a ball to deep center field, but Mast was able to run it down and make the catch near the fence to end the threat.
Check out highlights from Covenant's sweep of Brevard on March 17
Shannon Schmitt - first team
USA South All-Sportsmanship
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