The answer should be simple for Alvy Early and the Arkansas-Monticello softball team — win three of four against Southwestern Oklahoma State at home this weekend and advance to NCAA Division II regional tournament action.
It’s not that simple.
After splitting a doubleheader at Delta State on Thursday (2-1 win in nine innings and 9-4 loss), Early and the Cotton Blossoms can now focus on the four most important games of the season. A four-game sweep clinches a Great American Conference regular-season title and should be enough to catapult the Blossoms into a regional bid.
But UAM is getting no love from the voters and is currently just a blip on the radar screen. There’s also the matter of next week’s Great American Conference tournament.
“If we were still in the Gulf South Conference, we would probably be up there at third or fourth,” Early said following the split with DSU. “We are getting screwed but I can’t call and start complaining. If we win these four games and don’t get recognized, then I can call and start asking questions.”
For now, the only question on Early’s mind is if Kayla Jackson will continue her dominance on the mound and shut down Southwestern. The senior hurler was honored by the league for the third consecutive week, garnering Player and Pitcher of the Week accolades in the latest release from the GAC.
Early also would like to know if the UAM bats can continue to put pressure on opponents as it has during the second half of the season that included a 16-game winning streak, aided at least in part by Jackson, who was 10 for 18 at the plate during last week’s outings and is batting .397 for the season.
UAM (34-13, 18-4 GAC) currently stands alone at the top of the conference standings ahead of Southeastern Oklahoma State (22-6 GAC) and Southwestern Oklahoma State (13-11 GAC) but could still drop to second with only a split at Blossom Field this weekend.
Three wins would solidify a conference title but not necessarily a regional bid.
“I wouldn’t think it would be that hard to be in there right now,” Early said. “We don’t have a choice but to win these games and then see what happens.
Sunday will be senior day for UAM.
The UAM men’s and women’s golf teams completed the season at the Great American Conference championships.
The men finished in eighth place, ahead of Ouachita Baptist, led by Jordan Christensen, who shot 77-75-73 across the three-round tournament for a combined 229. His score put him in a tie for 24th place overall.
Star City’s Jacob McGhee shot 78-80-80 for a combined 238 in 29th place. Jesse Smith shot 83-80-82 for 245 in a tie for 37th. Jared Blasengame shot 82-85-83 (250, 42nd place) and Josh Tomlinson shot 90-81-83 (254, 43rd).
The women finished in seventh place, ahead of Southern Arkansas. They were led by the tandem of Brooke Boyd and Heather Sanders. The duo each shot 297 across the three-round tournament and tied for 29th place. Brooke shot 101-103-93 while Heather went 102-101-94.
White Hall’s Kayla Walters had the team-low round, shooting 92 in the opening round. She finished with a 105 and 104 to finish 301 in 32nd place. Kathleen Couch shot 111-112-115 (338, 35th) and Taylor Clark went 142-139-125 (406, 38th).
“I’m very proud of the men’s and women’s golf teams this semester,” said first-year golf coach Heather Wall. “They worked very hard throughout the season and all of their games improved. We had a great conference tournament and I know next year will be even better.”
The UAM baseball team will make its final stop of the season this weekend with a three-game GAC set against Southwestern Oklahoma State in Weatherford, Okla.
UAM (16-25, 5-15) is currently last in the conference standing but could climb out of the cellar with a sweep of SWOSU (23-14, 10-8) and a Harding loss to SWOSU next week in Searcy.
The Boll Weevils are coming off a 1-0 win against Southeastern Oklahoma State, halting a five-game losing skid.