Tuesday, 09 January 2024 15:39


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RUSSELLVILLE, Ark. – On Tuesday, the Great American Conference announced the results of its 2024 GAC softball coaches’ poll. Oklahoma Baptist received eight first-place votes from the league’s head coaches to enter the season as the preseason favorite.

Last year, the Bison captured their first GAC regular-season title and qualified for the NCAA Tournament for the first time in program history. They return Kayleigh Jones, the GAC and Central Region Pitcher of the Year. The D2CCA and NFCA All-American became the first GAC pitcher to record at least 300 strikeouts and 30 wins in a season. The Bison also bring back Emily Adler, the league’s Player of the Year, and Kennedy Clark, last season’s Freshman of the Year. Adler hit .398 with a .462 on-base percentage and 17 stolen bases while Clark hit .378 with a .439 on-base percentage and a .511 slugging percentage. In addition, the Bison return three supplemental All-GAC performers in second baseman Adi Reese, outfielder Sammie Greene and designated player Morgan Max. Reese led the team in home runs and RBI. Greene slugged .579 and stole 16 bases. Max added six home runs and 37 RBI.

Southern Arkansas placed second in the poll. They received two first place votes after advancing to the Super Regional for the third time in program history in 2023. Sydney Ward, a First-Team All-GAC pitcher, returns for her senior campaign. She won 24 games and struck out 170 batters in 200 innings of work. The Muleriders bring back two additional 2023 All-GAC selections in outfielder Ariana Rolle and designated player Regan Dillon.

Harding claimed the remaining two first-place votes and took third in the voting. The Lady Bisons scored an at-large berth to the NCAA Tournament and reached the Central Regional final. They return a trio of First-Team All-GAC honorees in pitchers Abby Burch and Riley Price plus catcher Chelsea Blankenship. Price added the GAC Newcomer of the Year honor while going 20-5 with a 1.73 ERA and a 1.16 WHIP. Burch set the NCAA single-season record with 19 saves. She did not allow an earned run in conference play. Blankenship threw out 11 runners trying to steal and added eight pick offs.

Southeastern Oklahoma State finished fourth in the balloting. The Savage Storm captured the program’s second GAC Championship title when they defeated SAU in the final.  They bring back four 2023 All-GAC selections in pitchers Reese Taylor and Amberlyn Walsworth plus catcher Sabetha Sands and designated playerIliana Olivares. Taylor earned GAC Tournament MVP honors. Taylor and Walsworth combined for 26 wins. Sands led the team in average while Olivares drove in 22.

Arkansas Tech edged out Arkansas-Monticello for fifth place. In her first year with the Golden Suns, Jordon Jones posted a 28-24 record. The Cotton Blossoms’ Kennedy Cox earned First-Team All-GAC accolades after hitting .405 with a league-leading 20 doubles. Second-Team All-GAC second baseman Bailey Camp, who hit .357 with 12 stolen bases, also returns.

Southern Nazarene came in seventh, followed by East Central and Henderson State. The Crimson Storm brings back Liana Heshiki, who paced the conference with a .409 average and a .478 on-base percentage, and Hailey Evans, who led the GAC with 13 home runs and 54 RBI. ECU returns Gabi Quintanilla and Megan Lesko. Quintanilla hit .336 with four home runs while Lesko led the team in home runs, doubles and RBI. The Reddies bring back Katelyn McMahan and Brooke Johnson. McMahan hit .298 and Johnson homered five times and went 7-7 inside the circle.

Northwestern Oklahoma State, Southwestern Oklahoma State and Ouachita Baptist rounded out the poll. Hannah Howell led the Rangers in average, home runs, RBI and wins. SWOSU shortstop Maddie Rahon led the Bulldogs with a .349 average and a .429 on-base percentage. The Tigers feature a new head coach in Jeff Jackson. Erin Williams returns after leading the team in average, home runs, RBI, hits, runs, doubles, on-base percentage and slugging percentage.

The regular season begins on the opening weekend of February with 11 schools taking the field. The top four schools in the preseason poll - Oklahoma Baptist, Southern Arkansas, Harding and Southeastern Oklahoma State, as well as Southern Nazarene - heading to Lafayette, Louisiana for the Mardi Gras Classic. Henderson State and Ouachita Baptist will co-host Hawkins-McGhee Memorial Tournament. Arkansas-Monticello and Southwestern Oklahoma State will also compete in the event. Arkansas Tech heads to Conroe, Texas for the Division II First Pitch Invitational while East Central faces Newman in a three-game series. Northwestern Oklahoma State debuts one week later.

The 2024 GAC Championships - Presented by Under Armour - take place from Thursday, May 2 through Saturday, May 4 at the Tiger Athletic Complex in Bentonville, Arkansas.



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