Spartanburg, S.C. – Coming off a 42-win season, the 2013 A-Sun Tournament Championship, and the athletic department's first ever team appearance in an NCAA Division I National Tournament, the USC Upstate softball program and head coach Chris Hawkins have announced the schedule for the 2014 season.
Upstate will play 56 games during the regular season, starting with three straight home tournaments at Cyrill Stadium in February with the likes of ACC teams Virginia Tech and Virginia coming to Spartanburg on separate weekends. In addition to Virginia Tech and Virginia, the Spartans will face another pair of ACC schools in N.C. State and North Carolina, as well as SEC foes Georgia and South Carolina to highlight its non-conference schedule. In all, Upstate will play five teams that advanced to the NCAA Tournament in 2013. In addition, the Spartans will play nine games and five opponents ranked in the Top 50 in the final NCAA RPI from 2013, 24 games and 13 opponents in the Top 100 and 32 games and 16 opponents ranked in the Top 150.
"Like last year, we have challenged ourselves with a difficult schedule," said Upstate head coach Chris Hawkins, who will be at the helm of the Spartan program for his 20th season and needs 19 wins to reach 700 in his career. "Unlike last year, we play every non-conference game on the road, except for our early season tournaments. That will make things even more challenging.
"Competing for the A-Sun regular season championship and making the field for the A-Sun Tournament is extremely difficult. Throw in the amount of quality non-conference opponents we will play and this year's schedule will be difficult. I believe that our regular season schedule helped us as we entered the A-Sun Tournament and made a run that eventually earned us the tournament championship and a trip to the NCAA Tournament last year. Hopefully, this year's schedule will help prepare us to battle at the top of the conference again this season."
Upstate garnered respect on a national level in 2013 when it claimed an 8-5 victory at Georgia on April 17 and took Kentucky to 11 innings before falling, 12-8, on Feb. 24 at Cyrill Stadium. Both Georgia and Kentucky advanced to the NCAA Tournament with Kentucky taking home the national No. 12 seed. The Spartans also finished the year ranked No. 43 in the NCAA RPI, the highest ranking it has ever achieved to end a season. Upstate also finished 2013 with the nation's No. 1 defense.
Upstate will begin the season when it hosts the Upstate Classic Feb. 7-9 at Cyrill Stadium. It will be the first of three straight tournaments hosted on consecutive weekends by the Spartans. Upstate will play Virginia two times, Eastern Michigan, Youngstown State and Towson in the tournament. A doubleheader at Furman on Feb. 12 will precede the Buffalo Wild Wings Spartan Invitational Feb. 14-16 at Cyrill Stadium. The Spartans fill face Virginia Tech, Ball State, George Mason and Presbyterian in the tournament.
A doubleheader at Gardner-Webb on Feb. 19 will precede the Spartan Classic tournament at Cyrill Stadium as Upstate will face Liberty, Furman, Winthrop and Western Carolina in the final tournament of the regular season Feb. 21-23. A doubleheader at Charleston Southern on Feb. 26 ends the month of February.
Upstate will begin the month of March by opening the A-Sun schedule with a three-game series against Jacksonville March 1-2 and Cyrill Stadium. The Spartans will then play 10 games in 14 days away from home, starting with a doubleheader at N.C. State on March 5 and a single game at North Carolina on March 6. The longest road trip of the season will see Upstate head to Florida over Spring Break to take on A-Sun foes Stetson March 11-12 and North Florida March 15-16. The Spartans will close out the road swing with a single game at Charlotte on March 19.
Upstate will return home to battle A-Sun foe Florida Gulf Coast March 22-23 before heading to Columbia to take on South Carolina in a single game on March 26. The Spartans close out the month of March against A-Sun rival Lipscomb March 29-30.
Following the series against Lipscomb, Upstate will hit the road again to start the month of April, playing 10 games in 11 days away from Cyrill Stadium. The Spartans play a doubleheader at Western Carolina on April 2 before heading to Mercer April 5-6 for their final A-Sun showdown against the Bears before Mercer moves to the Southern Conference starting in 2014-15. Single games at Presbyterian on April 8 and Georgia on April 9 follow before Upstate heads to Northern Kentucky for a three-game A-Sun series April 12-13.
Upstate will play its home finale April 18-19 against A-Sun rival Kennesaw State with Senior Day festivities planned for the 19th. A single game at Appalachian State follows on April 23 and the Spartans will close out the regular season at A-Sun foe ETSU May 3-4. The series will be the final against ETSU as members of the A-Sun with the Buccaneers also leaving for the Southern Conference to start 2014-15. If Upstate secures one of six spots in the A-Sun Tournament, the Spartans will head to Nashville, Tenn., and Lipscomb May 7-10 to attempt to defend its championship.