The Arkansas-Monticello baseball team carries the second-longest active winning streak of any Great American Conference team into this weekend’s home series with East Central (Okla.).
The Boll Weevils are hot — having won four straight — but the Tigers are even hotter with a 10-game winning streak and victories in 14 of their last 15 games.
UAM (21-10, 11-7 GAC) wrapped up its first conference sweep of the season last weekend against Harding but has no time to celebrate with ECU (20-10, 9-6) in town.
“The series win versus Harding was huge,” Weevils coach John Harvey said. “But like I’ve said before, this conference is so good you can’t really enjoy it, because the next team is just as good.
“That’s definitely the case with East Central, who is probably the hottest team in our conference having won 10 in a row and 14 of their last 15.
“But I feel good about the way we’re playing.”
Harvey has reason to be optimistic. UAM ended a 3-6 skid with a nonconference win over Union (Tenn.) before picking up the sweep of Harding.
If the Weevils want to end the Tigers’ winning streak, then they will need that success to carry over into this weekend’s three-game set that begins with a doubleheader at 1 p.m. today.
“We know they’re going to be a pretty good offensive team,” Harvey said. “They’re one of the better hitting teams in the league.
“But I think if we can locate our pitches and keep it out of the middle of the plate, then our defense will play well behind us.”
ECU features a solid starting rotation despite having a team ERA that’s nearly a full point higher than UAM’s (4.45 to 3.46).
“I’ve hear they are good on the mound,” Harvey said. “There starting pitchers go deep into games and they have one good guy out of the ’pen.
“They don’t really have a lot of other options, so their starters try and get far into the game.”
In the ECU’s last GAC series against Southern Nazarene, starters Lucas Kaplan (3-3, 5.66 ERA), Icezack Flemming (6-3, 4.05) and Oscar Gomez (4-0, 3.69) combined to throw 20 innings.
In the second game, Flemming hurled his sixth complete game in eight starts this season. For a frame of reference, UAM pitchers have totaled six complete games in 31 starts.
Harvey said his team’s strategy at the plate wouldn’t change this weekend.
“We’ll carry the same approach,” Harvey said. “We’re going to try and get their starting pitchers’ pitch count up.
“If they throw a lot of strikes, then the only thing we can think about is be disciplined enough to swing at strikes and not swing at balls. It’s really that simple.”
UAM will run out a pretty solid starting three this weekend, too.
Logan Johnson (4-2, 3.69 ERA) tossed a complete game last weekend against Harding. Kade Garlington (6-2, 3.40) followed with a 6 2/3 innings outing against the Bison. Austin Braddock (1-0, 3.92) finished off the sweep with his first win of the season.
“Our pitching staff has been the strength of our team along with our defense,” Harvey said. “Until Tuesday, we had the No. 1 ERA in the conference, I think we’re second right now.
“Our starters are giving us quality outings and our bullpen has been phenomenal. The strength of our staff is the depth.”
This weekend carries a lot of significance for both teams with the logjam at the top of the GAC standings.
UAM currently sits in fourth place and ECU resides in fifth, but the leaders aren’t far ahead. Southern Arkansas sits atop the conference with a 12-6 mark with Arkansas Tech and Southwestern Oklahoma State tied for second at 10-5.
“At the time, I felt like last weekend was our biggest of the year,” Harvey said. “Now I feel like this weekend is our biggest weekend.
“I think the same thing will probably happen the rest of the way.”
With the way things are setting up, UAM’s season-ending series hosting SAU could be for a conference title.
“We really love to play at home,” Harvey said, “especially since we won’t play here for a while.
“The hope is to have a chance in the last weekend to play for a conference championship.”