Kay Ivester smiles with Brenau pitcher Eli Daniel before throwing out the ceremonial first pitch during the celebration of the opening season of Pacolet Milliken Field at the Ernest Ledford Grindle Athletics Park, named for Kay Ivester's father. (AJ Reynolds/Brenau University)
Kay Ivester prepares to throw out first pitch with Brenau Golden Tigers freshman ace Eli Daniel assisting at the April 8 celebration of the first season at the Ernest Ledford Grindle Athletics Park (Photo for Brenau University by AJ Reynolds).

Brenau Celebrates First Season at Athletics Park by Clinching SSAC Title and No. 2 NAIA Spot

Apr. 18, 2017
Kristen Oliver

Just as Kay Grindle Ivester threw out the ceremonial first pitch Tuesday at the athletics park named for her father, the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics released its latest poll with the Brenau University Golden Tigers softball team moving up one spot to No. 2 in the nation.

Seven innings later behind solid pitching of freshman phenom Eli Daniel, Brenau secured a 3-2 win over the visiting Faulkner University Eagles to clinch the 2017 Southern States Athletic Conference regular-season championship.

In Game 2 of the doubleheader, the Golden Tigers shut out the Eagles 5-0 to remain undefeated in SSAC play at 24-0 and set a new program high for regular-season wins with an overall record of 45-5.

No team has ever finished the SSAC regular season undefeated. The Golden Tigers have two conference games remaining on the 2017 schedule.

And, with a doubleheader Friday, April 21, against College of Coastal Georgia, the Golden Tigers will close out the first regular season at the new Ernest Ledford Grindle Athletics Park in the New Holland community, about two miles from the Brenau historic campus. Brenau built the park on land donated by Pacolet-Milliken Enterprises on the site of its textile mill that became the nucleus of New Holland in the early 20th century and with funding provided by Ivester and her husband, Doug, both of whom grew up in the community.

Doug Ivester speaks about Ernest Ledford Grindle during a celebration of the opening season at Pacolet Milliken Field at the Ernest Ledford Grindle Athletics Park. (AJ Reynolds/Brenau University)

Doug Ivester speaks about Ernest Ledford Grindle during a celebration of the opening season at Pacolet Milliken Field at the Ernest Ledford Grindle Athletics Park. (AJ Reynolds/Brenau University)

“I can tell you if Ernest were here today, he would be thrilled with the rebirth of New Holland that is taking place,” Doug Ivester said as he pointed at the gold and black scoreboard in right-center field. “And, while Ernest would deny it and downplay it, he would be really proud to see his name in lights up there and for his family name to be recognized.”

“Those who haven’t been out here to see the Golden Tigers play are in for a real treat,” said Brenau University President Ed Schrader. “Their hard work at this point is tremendous. It’s been a lot of work to get to this point – great coaching and great performance. A facility like this gives us a great place to play, but also it’s a great way to attract the caliber of student-athletes that are on this team.”

Lynn Darby, head of the Melvin Douglas and Victoria Kay Ivester Foundation that provided the funding for the first phase of the 16.8-acre park, commended the softball team. “When you look at what these young ladies have done this season and consider the team’s overall grade-point average last year was 3.2, I think that is something to be as proud of as this field.”

With approximately 830 students enrolled in Brenau Women’s College, almost one-fourth are involved in intercollegiate athletics. The university hopes the park will benefit even more of its student-athletes, as the softball field is Phase 1 of a $4.4 million project. The university will begin construction the second phase, which includes facilities for track and field, soccer and lacrosse, once it secures financing.

“I would like to say a huge thank you to Doug and Kay Ivester,” said Brenau Athletic Director Mike Lochstampfor and the Phase 1 ceremony. “This is beautiful. When we stood on the hill looking across here two years ago, I couldn’t have anticipated something of this magnitude. I’m really proud of it, and I know our team is too. They’re playing like it.”

Mason Garland, left, high fives Mackenzie Oliver Mullis and Autumn Conaway before the first game of a doubleheader against Faulkner University.(AJ Reynolds/Brenau University)

Mason Garland, left, high fives Mackenzie Oliver Mullis and Autumn Conaway before the first game of a doubleheader against Faulkner University.(AJ Reynolds/Brenau University)

When Brenau defeated Faulkner in the first game of the Tuesday doubleheader, it won its first conference crown since 2009. As a bonus, coach Devon Thomas’ team learned just as Game 1 began that the Golden Tigers had moved up to No. 2 in the most recent NAIA poll for its highest ranking in school history (the 2012 squad reached No. 3).

As a bonus, the NAIA named freshman Eli Daniel from Locust Grove, Georgia, national pitcher of the week for the third time this season. That was before Tuesday’s Game 1 when she picked up her 36th win by recording nine strikeouts. She had two in the seventh inning to preserve the lead after junior Kelsey Payne from Chattanooga, Tennessee, drove in junior Mason Garland from Hoschton, Georgia, in the bottom of the sixth to make it 3-2.

Brenau bats came alive in the nightcap to back up the solid performance on the mound from sophomore Jessica Rathje from Glencoe, Alabama, who pitched all seven innings in the 5-0 win.

“It’s been a long time since Brenau won a conference championship and we’ve had a good season,” Payne said. Added junior catcher Savannah Moore from Soddy Daisy, Tennessee, “We had a little pressure today, but we dug deep and Eli and Jessica dug deep for us.”

Following the close of regular-season play, the Golden Tigers move next to the SSAC tournament April 27-29 in Decatur, Alabama.

General inquiries: info@brenau.edu, +1-770-534-6299 or +1-800-252-5119 | Admissions: admissions@brenau.edu, +1-770-534-6100 or +1-800-252-5119 ext. 6100