Eric Moyer, Associate Commissioner for Communications
RUSSELLVILLE – On the heels of a second-straight Great American Conference regular-season title, Southern Arkansas will open the 2020 softball season as the preseason favorite, the conference office announced on Tuesday.
The Muleriders claimed 10 first-place votes. They advanced to the NCAA Regionals for the fourth-straight season. They return 2019 GAC Pitcher of the Year Sydney Wader who posted a 22-4 record and 1.44 ERA. Victoria Taylor and Elisa Favela also come back after combining for 23 victories. Favela added a team-leading .358 average plus 13 home runs. Chelsea Fagan returns after she led the team with 19 home runs.
Arkansas Tech and Harding each received one first-place vote and tied for second in the balloting. The Golden Suns repeated as the GAC Tournament champions and qualified for their fourth NCAA Regional in the last five seasons. While they must replace their top three pitchers, the Golden Suns return All-American and GAC Freshman of the Year Tymber Riley plus 2019 GAC Championship MVP Ashton Sangster. Riley hit .398 with 12 home runs while Sangster led the GAC with seven triples and ranked third with 50 runs scored. Additionally, Paty Loredo drove in a league-leading 63 runs.
While Harding must replace 2019 GAC Player of the Year Peyton Mills, they do return three All-GAC performers in pitcher Jenna Hipp, catcher Briley Feringa and first baseman Amanda Fields. Hipp won 17 games and her 2.53 ERA ranked fifth in the league. Feringa posted a .331 average and Fields ranked sixth with 47 RBI.
Southeastern Oklahoma State placed fourth in the poll. The Savage Storm advanced to the final of the 2019 GAC Championships. They bring back two Second-Team All-GAC performers in second baseman Symphoni Shomo and pitcher Katie McCullar. Shomo swiped a GAC-leading 43 bases. McCullar went 17-8 inside the circle and hit .304 with seven home runs.
Southern Nazarene took fifth in the voting. All-Region performer Mahina Sauer headlines the Crimson Storm returners. She hit .415 with a .492 on-base percentage and she tallied five wins as a pitcher. Caitlyn Curlee led the team with 14 home runs and 45 RBI while Brooklyn Sparkman paced SNU with 14 wins.
East Central edged Henderson State and Southwestern Oklahoma State for the sixth position. The Tigers must replace Sable Hankins, an All-Region honoree and last season’s Newcomer of the Year. They will return Tarah Hilton, who ranked in the top four in average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage. Kaytlyn Kizarr’s .383 average finished eighth in the league.
The Reddies must replace the GAC all-time leader in wins, strikeouts and shutouts in Michelle Sorensen. A season ago, SWOSU qualified for the GAC Championships for the first time since 2013. They return their top three hitters in Amanda Moreno, Hannah Morris and Hannah Franklin. All three hit at least .343. Moreno led the team with 14 home runs and 19 stolen bases.
Arkansas-Monticello finished in ninth, followed by Ouachita, Oklahoma Baptist and Northwestern Oklahoma State. The Blossoms’ Haley Cornell earned an All-GAC spot as a freshman while Haley Godeaux tied for third in the GAC in doubles. Ouachita’s Tobi Finley placed on the All-GAC Honorable Mention list. The Bison’s Franki Hull hit .406 with 17 doubles to land on the All-GAC First Team. The Rangers’ Kalie Johnson and Taylor Russell garnered Honorable Mention All-GAC honors.
The 2020 season begins on Friday, January 31 with Arkansas Tech, Harding, Henderson State, Southeastern Oklahoma State and SAU heading to Conroe, Texas for Tech’s Winter Invitational. Oklahoma Baptist ventures to Las Vegas for three games at the Vegas Desert Stinger.
The year concludes in Bentonville, Arkansas with the Under Armour GAC Championships, set for April 30 through May 2 with the top eight teams competing in a single-elimination event.