ROCK HILL, S.C. (release) -- Carson-Newman leftfielder Kelli Hensley (Knoxville, Tenn.) has been named the South Atlantic Conference Softball Player of the Year, the league office announced Wednesday afternoon.
Hensley becomes the 17th Carson-Newman softball player to win the honor in the last 24 years and the third in the last four. She joins Brittany Hefner (2013) and Mary Shealey (2011) as the Eagles' most recent honorees.
"It's a tremendous honor to receive this," Hensley said. "It's humbling, especially following Brittany last season. All the other Eagles who have won it are players I've looked up to. So getting to join them on that list is really something special."
The sophomore is on the verge of a historic year for the Eagles. With 85 hits, she has the third most base knocks in a single season in C-N history. She needs two more to match Sammi Hatcher (1992) and Jessie Howard (2008) for the school record and five more to catch Jessica Neighdig of Anderson and Kat Rivers of Lenoir-Rhyne for the conference mark.
"Kelli's statistics tell the story," Carson-Newman head coach Vickee Kazee-Hollifield said. "She comes out and works hard every day. It's been great and encouraging to see her improve on a weekly basis. To me, she doesn't get cheated at the plate. She reads the ball extremely well."
A high batting average has followed Hensley's glut of hits. She's hitting .494 heading into the conference tournament, which, if the season ended today, would go down as the third highest single season mark in conference history and the second best in C-N lore.
Hensley is trying to join Sammi Hatcher (the league and conference single season batting average record holder with a .524 tally) as the second Eagle to hit .500 or better for a single season.
The Knoxville, Tenn.-native has 25 multi-hit games this year, including a trio of four-hit games – she's the only Eagle in the last four years with multiple four hit games in a single season. She actually has more three-hit games (12) than two-hit games (10).
Hensley began the year on a 19-game hitting streak, the third longest in school history. She's hit successfully in all but four games this year for Carson-Newman. She also leads the nation in triples with nine.
In addition to Hensley's player of the year and first team all-conference accolade, Sara Kelley (Ooltewah, Tenn.) and Caitlyn Lance (East Ridge, Tenn.) earned honorable mention All-SAC honors.
Kelley is second in the league in runs batted in with 57. Her 11 home runs are tied for second most in the conference. She leads the league with 18 doubles and has produced multi-RBI games on 16 occasions.
She has three games this year where she's drive in five or more runs. This is Kelley's second all-conference accolade. This year, she became Carson-Newman's all-time home run hitter with 35 career bombs, a tally that ranks sixth in SAC history. Her 54 career doubles are the most all-time at C-N and the fifth most in conference lore.
Lance goes down as the league's best defensive first baseman. She helped turn a league-best 22 double plays while only making two errors in 394 chances. Her .995 fielding percentage was the best among the league's first basemen, but also among players with 100 or more total chances.
Lance ranked top 20 in the conference in runs scored (29) and doubles (11). She was in the top 25 in batting average with a .317 tally.