UAM is fifth in softball poll

Coming off a 34-23 season that saw longtime coach Alvy Early become Arkansas’ winningest collegiate coach at any level, the University of Arkansas at Monticello has been picked to finish fifth in the Great American Conference Preseason Softball poll.  
“You know what most coaches think about preseason polls,” said Early, who currently has 1,168 coaching wins in 38 years of college coaching, “but it is sometimes interesting reading and makes for discussion. I will say that, other than the top two selections (top-ranked Southern Arkansas University and No. 2 Harding University), that poll does not very closely reflect the voting of the UAM staff. We had respect for all teams and our results were different for a few teams. Nevertheless, I think the competition will be balanced this season and each conference game could be a battle for us all.”
Early’s coaching peers, none of whom could vote for their own team, picked SAU to win the conference this spring with 112 points and six first-place votes. Harding followed with 104 votes and three-first place votes. The remaining three first-place votes went to No. 3 Arkansas Tech University, which garnered 102 points.
The rest of the poll is Henderson State University, fourth with 87 votes; UAM, fifth with 81; East Central University, sixth with 67; Southern Nazarene University, seventh with 51; and Ouachita Baptist University and Southeastern Oklahoma State University, tied for eighth with 47.
Northwestern Oklahoma State University (10th with 44); Oklahoma Baptist University (11th with 29); and Southwestern Oklahoma State University (12th with 21) rounded out the poll, released Tuesday by the league office.
“I believe we’ll be competitive but will require maximum effort and execution each game,” Early said of his team, which finished 2017 with a 26-16 conference slate. “I acknowledge we have some spots in the lineup that may need improvement as we go along. But I look forward to the challenges of the season—and there will be several. I hope we can stay healthy and avoid injuries all season.  
“Another thing that I believe to be important is to have good weather and get all GAC games played. Raino-uts and cancellations that are weather-related can make a difference in the standings as well as which teams make the postseason tournament.”
UAM welcomes back 13 returners to the 2018 team, including seven starters—seniors Ashton Currey, Skyler Anderson and Aubree Head, junior Kali Bolter, and sophomores Jordan Herbner, Maranda Clendenin and Kaylee Freeman.
Seniors Alyson Finnigan, Maylie Bain and Mallory McWhorter, along with junior Paisley Pratt and sophomores Kristen McNabb and Cailyn Bolick are back in Kellyt Green and White as well. The Cotton Blossoms were defeated in the GAC Championship Tournament during the second round after losses to Harding and Southern Nazarene.
Anderson finished second in batting average (.316) in 55 games, along with finishing the season with a fielding percentage of .980. Clendenin led the Blossoms in 2017 in runs batted in with 37 as a true freshman, blasting eight home runs with a batting average of .258. She started in all 56 contests last year.
Freeman will look to lead UAM in the circle this season after posting an 8-12 record in 22 appearances with an earned run average of 2.03 last season. She threw 131.1 innings and recorded 11 complete games and two shutouts in her first season with the Blossoms. Bain also compiled a solid 4-2 record in seven appearances.
League-wide, Southern Arkansas is the league favorite following a second straight trip to the NCAA Division II Softball National Championships. SAU returns a pair of All-Americans in Brooke Goad and Jill Roye.
Goad enters 2018 as Division II’s active leader in homers 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; she registered a 1.49 ERA and a .185 opponent’s batting average in 24 appearances in the circle, too. 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 champions, must replace the two pitchers that accounted for all but one of their 58 wins, Autumn Humes and Hannah Johnson. The Lady Bisons 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 returns 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’s Michelle Sorensen returns for her senior season. She already owns the school and GAC record for wins and no-hitters. The Reddies also bring back catcher Courtney Warren, who hit .309 and earned Honorable Mention All-GAC honors.
Following UAM, East Central returns 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. Southern Nazarene’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.
The Blossoms will open the 2018 season at the UAM DII Challenge in Bentonville, as they take on the University of Central Missouri, Missouri Western State University, Northwest Missouri State University and Emporia State (Kan.) University Feb. 10-11. UAM will follow that up with the UAM 9-State Classic in Bentonville from Feb. 16-18.
UAM’s first home game will come in the 11th game of the spring when Southeastern Oklahoma visits Blossoms Field for a four-game GAC series on Feb. 23-24.

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