Harold Coggins: GAC Baseball’s ‘Pre-Tourney Tourney’


Like a tournament before the tournament, this weekend’s Great American Conference baseball series pit the top four teams against each other. It couldn’t have worked out any better if the schedule makers at the GAC office in Russellville had planned it.

On the final weekend before next month’s GAC Baseball Postseason Championships in Enid, Okla., league-leading Arkansas Tech visits fourth place Harding and No. 3 Southern Arkansas is at No. 2 Arkansas-Monticello. All kinds of scenarios loom on the GAC baseball horizon. Tech could finish first or second; UAM could wind up anywhere from first to third; SAU could be as high as second or as low as fourth; and Harding could be third or fourth heading into the 2014 postseason.

All four clubs have been ranked at one point or another during the season by at least one of the four entities that rank NCAA Division II college baseball teams. Three are still ranked among the nation’s elite: The Wonder Boys, 38-8 and riding a 19-game winning streak, are ranked fourth by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association, fifth by Collegiate Baseball Newspaper, No. 14 by D2BaseballNews.com and No. 27 by College Baseball Lineup; SAU, 33-14 and the two-time defending GAC champion, is No. 12 in both College Baseball Lineup and D2BaseballNews.com and No. 13 in CBN; and the Boll Weevils, 31-12 and the surprise of the league so far, are ranked No. 25 by CBL and No. 29 by CBN.

Harding, 26-19, cracked the polls during midseason play but got no higher than No. 30.

If recent play holds true to form, Arkansas Tech would become the first team other than the Muleriders to win a regular-season baseball crown in the GAC. But if UAM sweeps SAU in Monticello and Harding sweeps Tech in Searcy—not entirely out of the realm of possibility— Arkansas-Monticello would win the regular-season title outright by one game. Should that happen, Tech would finish second, Harding third and SAU fourth.

If SAU sweeps the Weevils, regardless of the outcome of the Tech-Harding series, the Muleriders would claim the second seed for the upcoming conference tournament. If that occurs, Tech would be the regular-season champion, SAU second, UAM third and Harding fourth. Arkansas Tech and UAM both have to win just once during the weekend to assure themselves of finishing 1-2 in the league (If Tech loses two at Harding and UAM sweeps, the teams would technically be tied but Tech would receive the top tournament seed by virtue of its series win against UAM). If both SAU and Harding win two of three, the schools would stay in the same order. But if SAU loses two to UAM and Harding takes two from Tech, the Bisons would vault over the Muleriders and into third.

Confused yet? Join the club.

So far, only Tech, UAM and SAU have officially clinched berths in the conference tournament. For all practical purposes, though, there’s no way Harding could fall from fourth to seventh and out of the postseason. However, there could be a lot of shakeup among seeds four through six, depending on the outcome of this week’s final conference series. Henderson State and Southeastern Oklahoma State, though playing different opponents, look to be in the battle for the last conference tournament spot.

Arkansas Tech (38-8, 22-5) at Harding (29-16, 16-11)

At Jerry Moore Field, Searcy

From mid-March, when the Wonder Boys took two of three from UAM, Tech has lost just three games—two to SAU and the one to the Weevils. During its 19-game winning streak, wich includes a 12-game GAC winning steak, Arkansas Tech has become the class of the conference. The Wonder Boys have scored an overage of more than seven runs in their streak while holding their opponents to two or fewer runs 12 times and posting two shutout victories. Tech has the second best offense in the GAC (.296 team batting average), the fourth-best pitching staff (3.95 earned run average) and the league leader in saves, Randy Vallejo’s 12. Mike Kattula continues to lead Tech at the plate with a .371 average (good for foruth in the GAC). Kattula ranks among the GAC’s top 10 in hits (56), home runs (six), doubles (16), runs batted in (38) and total bases (92). Tech is also fourth in team fielding in the league at .970 and has turned 38 double plays. Harding, meanwhile, has the GAC’s best pitching staff (3.48 team ERA), best fielding club (.972 percentage and a league-leading 46 double plays) and the Bisons are third in team offense (.296 team batting average). Matt Calhoun is the GAC’s best hitter at .386 while Andrew Fiddler ranks fourth in ERA (2.49). Fiddler also still tops the GAC in the opponent batting average category at .199. A typical first vs. fourth matchup, the series gets underway with a single game on Friday at 3 p.m., followed by a Saturday doubleheader, beginning at noon. Can anybody slow down the Tech express?

Prediction: Tech 2-1.

* * *

Southern Arkansas (33-13, 17-10) at Arkansas-Monticello (31-12, 20-7)

At Weevils Field, Monticello

From a sheer rivalry standpont, there’s probably not a better series in the GAC this weekend. Simply put, SAU and UAM do not like each other in any athletic competition. It’s not Arkansas-Texas, Oklahoma-Nebraska or Ohio State-Michigan, but for avid fans of either school, it’s close. SAU comes to Monticello with the GAC’s best hitting club (an even .300 team batting average) while UAM counters with the league’s second-best pitching staff (3.63 team ERA). In 13 individual statistical categories, players from either team currently rank first or second—and in five, players from both schools are 1-2. UAM’s Ben Agredano is the GAC’s second best hitter (.380) and leads in hits (65) and RBI (46). SAU’s Tyler Cameron leads the GAC in runs scored (52) and walks (32), and is second in hits (62), home runs (seven), RBI (45) and total bases (98). Jon Phillips of SAU currently ranks third in hitting (.377) and hits (60). Aside from Agredano and Cameron ranking 1-2 in hits and RBI, Cameron and UAM’s Evan Comeau (30) rank 1-2 in walks, SAU’s Dylan Lynn and UAM’s Kade Garlington are tied for the league lead in pitching wins (nine) andthe Weevils’ Ray Johnson is tied with Cameron for second in homers. Friday begins the South Arkansas dogfight with a single game at 2 p.m. The doubleheader on Saturday is tentatively scheduled to start at noon but the first pitch may be moved back to 1 p.m.

Prediction: SAU 2-1.

* * *

Ouachita Baptist (21-26, 13-14) at Henderson State (17-28, 11-16)

At Clyde Berry Field, Arkadelphia

Baseball’s version of the “Battle of the Ravine” matches two schools jockeying for positions in next month’s GAC postseason tournament. OBU is currently two games up on the Reddies but the teams could switch positions after the weekend. Neither team has been proficient either at the plate or on the mound in the league this year (Ouachita is eighth in team pitching and ninth in team batting, while Henderson ranks 10th in both categories), but the Tigers’ Keegan Ghidotti and Parker Norris havs shone individually. Ghidotti has a league-leaging six triples and Norris leads the GAC in stolen bases with 33. OBU’s Davis Ward added another shutout to his league-leading total and now has four. Ward is also the second-best pitcher in the league (2.26 ERA). The rivalry starts with a single game at 3 p.m. on Friday nd concludes with a Saturday doubleheader, with the first pitch slated for 1 p.m.

Prediction: OBU 2-1.

* * *

East Central (26-20, 14-13) at Southeastern Oklahoma (20-21, 11-16)

At The Ballpark in Durant, Durant, Okla.

As much as OBU-Henderson, East Central and Southeastern are playing for positions in the GAC postseason. Southeastern’s Mason Crenshaw enters the series as the GAC’s top pitcher in terms of ERA (2.01), while East Central’s Icezack Flemming still leads all of NCAA Division II in strikeouts with 105. A single game at 2 p.m. on Friday starts the three-game series and a doubleheader at 1 p.m. on Saturday finishes it.

Prediction: East Central 2-1.

* * *

Northwestern Oklahoma (24-23, 7-20) at Southwestern Oklahoma (22-20, 14-13)

At SWOSU Athletic Complex, Weatherford, Okla.

Only one team is playing for anything, as Northwestern is still ineligible for postseason play because of provisional GAC status. The Bulldogs’ Jonathan Freemyer, though, could very well add to his .345 batting average and GAC-leading 12 home runs. Freemyer also leads the league in total bases with 111 and slugging percentage at .703. Southwestern counters with the GAC ironman, Jonathan Johnson, who leads in innings pitched with 93.1, is second in complete games with eight and third in ERA at 2.31. The series starts with a single game at 2 p.m. on Friday and concvludes with a Saturday doubleheader, beginning at 1 p.m.

Prediction: Southwestern sweep. 

* * *

Southern Nazarene (16-29, 5-25 GAC) at Lubbock Christian (33-10, 23-4 Heartland)

At Hays Field, Lubbock, Texas

The other school ineligible for postseason play because of provisional league status, Southern Nazarene really picked the wrong opponent with which to end its 2014 season. It’s the GAC’sworst team playing the Heartland Conference’s best. Enough said. The expected massacre begins with a doubleheader at 1 p.m. on Friday and finishes with a single game on Saturday, also at 1 p.m.

Prediction: Lubbock Christian sweep.

muleriders in the gac baseball discussion


Tags: ,