UAM, SE Oklahoma favored for softball title

RUSSELLVILLE — Arkansas-Monticello, which nearly won an NCAA regional championship last season, was picked along with Southeastern Oklahoma State to win the first Great American Conference softball championship, it was announced Monday.

UAM and Southeastern each earned 42 voting points in a poll conducted by the conference’s coaches. UAM, however, had the most first-place votes with five, along with a third-place vote and sixth-place nod. Southeastern, a regular contender in the Lone Star Conference before the GAC was formed, racked up two firsts, three seconds and two thirds.

UAM came within a victory of winning the Gulf South Conference championship and NCAA South Regional title last season, losing to Valdosta State and West Alabama respectively in the final rounds, and finished 46-16. The Cotton Blossoms are coming back with All-America pitcher and first baseman Kayla Jackson, who was 29-9 and sported a 1.13 ERA in the circle and batted a team-leading .434 with 12 home runs as a junior. Five other starters for the Blossoms from last season also are returning.

Southeastern was 36-19 a season ago and will start 2012 with four starters from that team.

Rounding out the poll: East Central was third with 38 points (one first), followed by Arkansas Tech with 35, Ouachita Baptist with 22, Henderson State with 19, Southwestern Oklahoma State with 15 and Southern Arkansas with 11.

UAM will begin its season Feb. 4 against Midwestern State (Texas) in a doubleheader at Arkadelphia. Its first home games are a March 10-11, four-game stand against East Central.