MONTICELLO — The importance of this weekend’s series between Arkansas-Monticello and Southern Arkansas cannot be understated.
The three-game set pits the second and third place teams in the Great American Conference against each other with the Boll Weevils needing just one win to secure the No. 2 seed for next week’s GAC tournament.
UAM’s first shot at that win will come at 2 p.m. today with a doubleheader beginning at 1 p.m. set for Saturday at Weevils Field.
Technically, UAM (31-12, 20-7) has a shot — albeit a very long one — at winning the conference regular season title and grabbing the No. 1 seed. For that to happen, though, UAM would need to sweep SAU and hope Harding sweeps an Arkansas Tech squad that has won its last 19 games.
The Wonder Boys haven’t lost since being swept in a March 21 doubleheader by the Muleriders.
Even if Harding doesn’t hold up its end of the bargain, a sweep of SAU (33-14, 17-10) would tie UAM for the most wins in school history, while a single victory would match last year’s win total.
The implications grow even greater for the Muleriders and Weevils when glancing at the initial NCAA Division II regional rankings.
The rankings, which came out earlier this week, have SAU and UAM at No. 2 and No. 4, respectively, in the Central Region, which is not surprisingly topped by ATU and its 38-8 record (22-5 in GAC).
The Central Region is made up of the teams in the GAC, Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association and the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference.
The top six teams in the region following all conference tournaments will earn trips to the regional tournament.
This weekend’s series pits two teams that have been trending in opposite directions as of late.
UAM hasn’t played since an April 16 loss to Harding, but the Weevils have won 14 of their last 16 overall. SAU has lost six of its past 10 games, but the Muleriders have won three of their past four.
UAM would also seem to have the edge thanks to home-field advantage. The Weevils enjoy a sparkling 13-3 home record; however, SAU has proven quite capable on the road with a 15-6 mark outside of Magnolia.
Barring an ATU collapse, after this weekend’s games UAM and SAU will still be the second and third place teams in the conference heading into the tournament at David Allen Memorial Ballpark in Enid, Okla.
That means the chances are very high of the Weevils and Muleriders facing off again in the tourney’s second round — and quite possibly multiple times — next week.
If that happens, the stakes will only be raised for a pair of teams hoping their season won’t end short of regional tournament berths.