MONTICELLO — The Arkansas-Monticello softball team recorded a four-game sweep of Henderson State this past weekend to move into a tie with Southeastern Oklahoma State University as the Cotton Blossoms improved to 20-10 overall and 8-2 in the Great American Conference.
SOSU is 16-4 in the conference after playing twice as many games as inclimate weather has stifled the Blossoms. But with the deciding factor being on winning percentage and not the number of games played, UAM is poised to gain control of the GAC as the season heads down the final stretch.
Senior pitcher Kayla Jackson is the key ingredient to the recent success of the program and has been for the past three-plus seasons.
“We are never going to be satisfied,” Jackson said of the team’s current position in the standings. “We still have to keep going. I don’t want to be sitting there even with them. I want to be ahead of them.”
As a freshman in 2009, Jackson arrived in Monticello out of Hallsville, Texas, and made an immediate impact.
She started the first outing of her storied career on opening day and played all 54 games, leading the team in batting average with a .381. Since then, Jackson has not missed a game. She started all 68 games as a sophomore, all 62 as a junior last year and has not missed any of UAM’s 30 games this season to extend her consecutive starts streak to 214 games.
UAM coach Alvy Early understands what Jackson brings to the team. The GSC Coach of the Decade (2000-10) has cultivated as successful of a program in the nation with 532 total wins on the softball field, leading the Blossoms to the NCAA regional’s on three separate occasions.
“It’s just so much by example,” Early said. “Just having the experience and having been there. You hate to say that one player is better than another because that is not the case. She is just a key component of the leadership of this team.”
Jackson understands it as well.
“That’s how it is,” Jackson said. “I have to watch myself in what I say and what I do because they do feed off of me. If I’m having a good day or a bad day on the mound that’s usually how the team works.”
And the team works well with Jackson in the circle as the hard-throwing right-hander has compiled impressive numbers. Following a freshman season of 23-9, Jackson went 31-7 her sophomore year and 29-9 her junior year and is currently 14-4. And with opponents batting less than .200 with her on the mound, it’s easy to see why the Blossoms go as Jackson goes. And she continues to work as hard on her leadership skills as she does on her athletic prowess.
“She just excels at every aspect of the game,” said UAM sophomore catcher Brittany Eitel, who has played with Jackson since their prep days in Hallsville where Eitel’s father, Pat, coached the duo. “She works hard at it. It’s not just her hitting or her pitching. It’s all of it. She is definitely a good person for the younger players coming in to look up to.”
Jackson understands her role.
“I’m not always like that,” Jackson admitted. “I am trying really hard to be like that because I know they do feed off how I am. And I want them to know that if I’m not doing my job, and they are, that it’s not their fault that runs are scoring or whatever.”
With an overall record of 97-29, Jackson is nearing the century mark in wins, a number that almost matches her ERA figures. Her 1.91 ERA as a senior is impressive but is heightened compared to last season’s 1.13, the 1.31 as a sophomore and her 1.24 post as a freshman.
The Weevils took two of three against Henderson State University over the weekend, stopping a seven-game losing streak, as UAM improved to 3-8 in GAC action.
UAM split a non-conference doubleheader with Lyon College on Tuesday to improve to 14-15 overall with a three-game set against Ouachita Baptist University slated for Saturday and Sunday in Monticello.
Golf coach Heather Wall is pleased with the outcome of UAM’s production in this past weekend’s Dave Falconer Memorial in Dardanelle. Although neither men’s or women’s teams placed at the top, Wall is seeing progress in her first year.
“I think consistency has helped,” Wall said. “They have had consistent practices and practice times. It’s good to see them making progress.”
Wall cited Star City product Jacob McGhee on the men’s team and White Hall graduate Kayla Walters for the women’s squad as two of the key ingredients to the improvements the program is making.
Walters carded a 98-94 at the Falconer while McGhee signed for a 77 on the final day after carding an opening-round 83, landing him on the roster for next week’s match in Texarkana without having to compete in the qualifier to make the five-man roster.
The men turned in a 636 overall while the women carded a 404. It was the lowest total of the season, fall and spring, for both teams.