Cotton Blossoms back in playoff race


MONTICELLO — The Arkansas-Monticello Blossoms are riding a two-game winning streak entering the final two weeks of the 2011-2012 basketball season.

After starting the Great American Confernce schedule with five consecutive losses, UAM coach Tanya Ray has guided the blossoms to four wins in the previous six outings to climb out of the cellar and get back into playoff contention.

UAM is currently 8-13 overall and 4-7 in the league with five games left. The Blossoms are sandwiched in the division standings between Southeastern Oklahoma State University (5-7) and East Central University (4-8), the next two games on the schedule. A pair of road wins would put UAM in the middle of the conference standings and in position to snag one of eight post-season berths.

“Obviously, we have to come out and play every night,” Ray said. “That’s usually the question mark with us is whether or not we are ready to play. But when we do we can be a tough team. I think we can be a contender.”

Ray has noted that scoring points has been a problem for the Blossoms. UAM is shooting 37.4 percent from the floor while opponents are shooting at a 43.7-percent clip. The Blossoms are scoring an average of 65.5 points per game while opponents are scoring 66.8, a mere 1.3 differential.

UAM may need to look at boardwork for a possible solution as opponents are pulling down nearly 10 rebounds per game, 40.1 to 30.9, more than the Blossoms. That leads to second chance points and missed opportunities on the offensive end of the floor.

MENS BASKETBALL

The Weevils are currently 15-8 overall and 5-6 in the GAC.

After a 4-1 start to the conference slate, UAM has faltered in the middle of the conference schedule, losing five of its past six outings.

UAM coach Allen Sharpe cited a “leadership issue” as one of the main issues for the decline.

UAM is also having trouble closing out close games as the Weevils are 0-5 in 3-point or less games, including an 88-85 loss to Henderson State on Saturday.

UAM will attempt to get back on track on the road, which has not been kind. The Weevils are 4-5 when playing away from Steelman Field House.

UAM will play at Southeastern Oklahoma State today and at East Central in Ada, Okla., on Saturday before returning home.

BASEBALL

UAM started the season with a pair of shutout wins as pitching dictated the early-season action. The Weevils are currently 4-1 after two wins and a loss over the weekend in Magnolia.

UAM senior outfielder Wayne Hawkins was selected GAC Baseball Player of the Week for the first time of his career after leading the Boll Weevils to a pair of non-conference wins over conference opponents in the 2-1 weekend at the Mulerider Classic.

Hawkins (.471) is one of three UAM players hitting above .400 in the early stages. Josh Chism is batting .412 and T.J. Cox is at a solid .400. Hawkins is atop the team leaders in batting average, slugging (.765), hits (8) and total bases (13) and is tied with Chism with five runs batted in.

Kenny Marshall leads the pitching staff with a 2-0 record. In 8.0 innings pitched, Marshall has allowed two hits and two runs while striking out 11 and walking seven.

Home fans will have plenty of opportunities to watch the Weevils on the diamond in the upcoming weeks as UAM has five doubleheaders scheduled beginning with Saturday and Sunday’s four-game slate against McKendree University. Games are scheduled to begin at noon each day.

SOFTBALL

UAM freshman Katie Slaughter was chosen the GAC Softball Pitcher of the Week after recording 11 strikeouts and allowing only four hits in a complete-game 6-2 victory over Rockhurst University this past Sunday.

The No. 12-ranked Blossoms opened the 2012 campaign with a 1-0 loss to Missouri Western State before leveling thir record with a 6-2 win over Rockhurt behind Slaughter’s pitching.

The Blossoms now embark to Durant, Okla., for the Southeastern Shootout beginning Friday. UAM will play Angelo State and Central Missouri University on the opening day of the event and Newman University and Cameron University on Saturday. UAM will be seeking revenge against Missouri Western on Sunday at 10 a.m., and close out the event against Central Oklahoma University that afternoon.