RUSSELLVILLE, Ark. – On Tuesday, the Great American Conference announced the results of its 2021 softball preseason poll. Southern Arkansas finished as the unanimous favorite following a vote of the league’s head coaches.
The Muleriders finished the abbreviated 2020 season with a 22-2 record, including 12-0 in GAC play. They won their final 16 games and capped the year ranked No. 1 in the NFCA Division II poll. They return the three starting pitchers that combined to win all 22 games last season in Sydney Wader - 13-0, 1.12 ERA; Victoria Taylor - 5-1, 2.31 ERA, 47 strikeouts in 33.1 innings and Elisa Favela – 4-1, .206 average against and 39 strikeouts in 28.2 innings.
Offensively, Favela hit .506 with eight home runs and 30 RBI as SAU returns seven starters from a lineup that led the GAC in 11 major offensive categories. Laina Suesue placed second to Favela with a .461 average and she drove in 33 runs in 24 games. Faith Otts finished atop the leaderboards in runs scored, 32, and walks, 19.
Arkansas Tech placed second in the poll. When the 2020 season stopped, the Golden Suns owned a 14-10 record. Brooke Prewitt’s 10 doubles in the abbreviated season led the GAC. Lexi Taylor finished in the top five in both ERA and opponent’s batting average and Maddy Prough’s 57 strikeouts ranked fifth in the conference.
Southern Nazarene edged out Harding for third place. The Crimson Storm’s Caitlyn Curlee slugged eight home runs to match the high in the GAC. Her .761 slugging percentage ranked second in the league. Chelsea Vandiver finished in the top five in both wins and ERA. Harding returns Kendall Tramel and Hanna Jones who combined for 28 stolen bases in 30 attempts. Nicole Shano added a .411 average. In the circle, Emma Dwyer’s .200 opponent’s batting average ranked second in the conference.
Southeastern Oklahoma State took fifth, followed by Oklahoma Baptist. The Savage Storm’s Kady Fryrear began her 2020 freshman campaign by ranking in the top five in average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage. At the time of the season suspending, the Bison owned the second-best GAC record at 10-2. Offensively, they return Katelyn Marsh who posted a .452 average and a .512 on-base percentage. In the circle, Aspen Younce’s 60 strikeouts ranked third in the GAC.
Henderson State finished in seventh and Arkansas-Monticello came in eighth. The Reddies feature a first-year head coach in David Martinez. He had served on the Henderson State staff as a head assistant and associate head coach during the previous three seasons. Ashlyn Taylor and Abbie Moore each hit four home runs with on-base percentages in excess of .400. Caroline Tedder led the Blossoms with a .333 average, five home runs, 23 RBI and a .621 slugging percentage. UAM led the conference with 65 stolen bases in 23 games. Katelynn Stamper went 16-for-17 on her stolen base attempts.
Southwestern Oklahoma State, East Central, Ouachita and Northwestern Oklahoma State rounded out the poll. The Bulldogs’ Breanna Simmons and ECU’s Tatiana Bryant each owned .400 averages at the time the 2020 season ended.
East Central opens the 2021 regular season with a doubleheader against Newman on Tuesday, February 2. The majority of the league begins play on the first weekend of the month.
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