Dardenne receives conference honors

RUSSELLVILLE — Former Watson Chapel baseball standout Ryan Dardenne was honored by the Great American Conference on Thursday as the redshirt freshman was selected Freshman of the Year in the league’s inaugural season.

Dardenne, who plays for Southern Arkansas, was among three Muleriders receiving top honors, joining SAU senior Pitcher of the Year Doug Shields (Mesquite, Tex.) and Coach of the Year Steve Browning.

“I was kind of blown away when I heard,” Dardenne said following SAU’s 6-4 second-round GAC Tournament win over Southwestern Oklahoma on Saturday. “I was not expecting this. This is a great honor.”

It was not the only accolade Dardenne received this year as the league selected the catcher as Player of the Week on April 24 after a blistering performance at the plate, hitting .467 and racking up 12 RBIs during a 2-2 week for the Muleriders. He went 7 for 15 with three runs scored, two doubles and three homeruns to his totals that week including two wins over conference foe Ouachita Baptist.

“I feel like I have been consistent all year,” Dardenne said. “Coach (Browning) gave me an opportunity and I am just trying to continue t get better. I don’t know what the qualifications are but I am very thankful to have that chance.”

He made the most of his opportunity this year after earning a redshirt his initial season. Dardenne was batting .291 with 44 hits in 151 at bats entering the postseason. He doubled 14 times and led the team with four homeruns, driving in 39 runs, eight in a single game against OBU, setting a conference record.

Dardenne said the peak week of his season followed a week of instability where he went 1 for 19.

“I knew I had to get back on track so I just started relaxing and that really helped,” he said of the turnaround.

Dardenne was the lone position player to receive conference Player of the Week accolades as a freshman. Not bad for a player who’s only real look came from Browning at SAU.

“I owe a lot to (Watson Chapel) Coach (Chad) Cope,” Dardenne admitted. “He is the one that notified the coaches at SAU and got me noticed. That was key to getting me here.”

Dardenne helped the Muleriders to a regular-season conference title and has aided SAU to two consecutive wins to open the season-ending conference tournament in Enid, Okla., where he drove in a run in a 7-6 win over Henderson State on Friday and was hitless in two at bats in Saturday’s win with a walk and RBI and was hit by a pitch.