Western Carolina’s softball team will open its season Wednesday with a 2:30 p.m. doubleheader at Clemson.
It will mark the first home games for the Lady Tigers, who are fielding a fast pitch team for the first time in school history.
Western will not play again until its home opener, a doubleheader with Winthrop on Feb. 25.
One of the season highlights will be an April 22 visit by perennial national power Tennessee to the Catamount Softball Complex.
Among other non-conference opponents are Boston College and Georgia at Georgia’s Bulldog Classic (Feb. 28-March 1), Butler and Memphis at the Memphis Tournament (March 6-8) and Virginia at Virginia’s Cavalier Classic (March 28).
Southern Conference action will begin with a three-game series at home against Mercer. They will play a doubleheader March 21 and a single game March 22.
“We are looking forward to being part of softball history this year starting our highly competitive schedule playing at Clemson in one of the first games in their program history and their new stadium,” Coach Jim Clift said. “Those games have been sold out for months and will be broadcast on the ACC Network. It will be a great experience for our young squad.
“By March 1 we will have played Georgia twice and Boston College once,” Clift said. “That will be five games with Power 5 programs out of our first 10 games. It will be an awesome challenge, and we are looking forward to the competition.”
Speaking of the Tennessee game, Clift said, “This will be the first SEC opponent to play softball in Cullowhee in school history. I’m sure we will have our hands full, but our Catamounts are looking forward to the challenge.”
Senior pitcher Kinsey Liscio was named to the All-Southern Conference preseason second team by league coaches. She won 10 games last year with a 4.21 earned run average. Her 181 career strikeouts rank seventh in program history, and she is tied for fifth with 58 starts.
WCU and Furman were tied for last place among the seven league schools that play softball in the coaches’ poll. That’s exactly where those two squads finished last year when Western was 21-32 overall and 5-12 in the conference.
UT-Chattanooga is the preseason favorite with UNC-Greensboro second. East Tennessee and Mercer are tied for third, and Samford is fifth.
UT-C’s Aly Walker is the preseason player of the year, and teammate Celie Hudson is preseason pitcher of the year.
The schedule is as follows with DH denoting a doubleheader:
Feb. 12 – at Clemson (DH); 25 – Winthrop (DH); 28 – Eastern Illinois and Boston College at Georgia; 29 – Georgia and Eastern Illinois at Georgia.
March 1 – at Georgia; 6 – Butler and Memphis at Memphis; 7 – Youngstown State and Belmont at Memphis; 8 – Indiana State at Memphis; 10 – Radford; 11 – Radford (DH); 13 – Iona (DH) and Fairfield (DH) at Mercer; 14 – Florida A&M and Fairfield at Mercer; 15 – Iona at Mercer; 18 – at Appalachian State (DH); 21 – Mercer (DH); 22 – Mercer; 25 – at Gardner-Webb (DH); 27 – Buffalo at Virginia; 28 – Presbyterian and Virginia at Virginia; 29 – Presbyterian at Virginia.
April 4 – at East Tennessee (DH); 5 – at ETSU; 7 – N.C. Central (DH); 10 – UNC-Greensboro (DH); 11 – UNC-G; 15 – USC-Upstate (DH); 18 – at Samford (DH); 19 – at Samford; 21 – at N.C. A&T (DH); 22 – Tennessee; 25 – at Furman (DH); 26 – at Furman.
May 2 – UT-Chattanooga (DH); 3 – UT-C; 6-9 – Southern Conference Tournament at UNC-G.