East Central sixth in GAC softball poll

Great American Conference Graphic

RUSSELLVILLE, Ark. – Following a second straight trip to the NCAA Division II Softball National Championships, Southern Arkansas will enter 2018 as the preseason favorite in the Great American Conference, the league announced on Tuesday. The Lady Muleriders received six of the 12 first-place votes.

SAU returns a pair of All-Americans in Brooke Goad and Jill Roye. Goad enters 2018 as Division II’s active leader in home runs with 58. She led the GAC in doubles and runs scored and ranked second in the league in on-base percentage, slugging percentage, home runs and total bases. Roye, the 2017 GAC Newcomer of the Year, paced the conference with 66 RBI, and she registered a 1.49 ERA and a .185 opponent’s batting average in 24 appearances in the circle. Victoria Taylor won 18 games and struck out 177 batters in 168.2 innings as a freshman.

Harding, the 2017 GAC regular-season and tournament champion, took second after picking up three first-place votes. The Lady Bisons must replace the two pitchers who accounted for all but one of their 58 wins, Autumn Humes and Hannah Johnson. They bring back All-American Peyton Mills, who led the league in hits and triples while ranking in the top five in average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, runs scored, RBI, doubles, total bases and stolen bases.

Arkansas Tech collected the three remaining first-place votes and finished third in the balloting. The Golden Suns return two of their top three hitters in Megan Goodnight and Janie Knowles. They did lose pitcher Jalissa Gum, who produced consecutive All-American campaigns inside the circle.

Henderson State took fourth in the poll. The Reddies’ Michelle Sorensen returns for her senior season. She already owns the school and GAC records for wins and no-hitters. They also bring back catcher Courtney Warren, who hit .309 and earned Honorable Mention All-GAC honors. Arkansas-Monticello finished fifth. The Blossoms posted a 34-23 mark last season, their best record since winning the inaugural GAC Championship in 2012 with a 40-14 record.

East Central took sixth, followed by Southern Nazarene. The Tigers return five of their six 2017 All-GAC selections, headlined by First-Team first baseman Alissa Taylor. She hit .402, second in the GAC, tied for first with 16 doubles and ranked fourth in slugging percentage. The Crimson Storm’s Mahina Sauer became one of three freshmen named to the All-GAC First Team after she ranked in the top seven in average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage. Pitcher Katelyn Brown won 21 games and struck out 201.

Ouachita and Southeastern shared eighth place. The Savage Storm’s Symphoni Shomo tied for the GAC lead with 32 steals as a freshman and made the All-GAC First Team. Tiger outfielder Macy Wilson hit .316 as a freshman.

Northwestern, Oklahoma Baptist and Southwestern rounded out the poll.

The 2018 season opens with seven schools in action on the opening February weekend. Arkansas Tech, East Central and Oklahoma Baptist head to Southeastern for the Southeastern Regional Invitational.

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Jeff Cali has been covering sports in the Ada area since the mid-90s. He graduated from Byng High School and earned a bachelor’s degree from East Central University.