Eric Moyer, Associate Commissioner for Communications
RUSSELLVILLE, Ark. – With the start of the 2020 Great American Conference baseball season coming up at the end of the month, the league’s head coaches established reigning regular-season champion Arkansas-Monticello as the preseason favorite, the conference office announced on Wednesday.
The Weevils picked up 10 of the 12 first-place votes after they posted a 34-16 record and earned a spot in the NCAA Regionals for the fourth time in the last six seasons. They return eight players that captured All-GAC honors in 2019 headlined by Pitcher of the Year Matt Lundh, First-Team outfielder David Reyna and Freshman of the Year Cade Thompson. Lundh posted an 8-1 record with a 3.39 ERA and 85 strikeouts in 71.2 innings pitched. Reyna ranked in the top six in the league in average, slugging percentage and stolen bases. Thompson placed fifth with a .378 average and he went 10-for-11 in stolen bases.
Oklahoma Baptist claimed the remaining two first-place votes and placed second in the balloting. The Bison ran through the GAC Championships with a 4-0 record and outscored the opposition by a 39-15 to claim their first automatic bid to the NCAA Regionals. After 35 seasons in the dugout and amassing 1,378 wins, Bobby Cox retired as head coach. His son, Chris, takes over. He inherits a squad that features a pair of First-Team All-GAC selection in starting pitcher Jake Lipetzky and catcher Ramon Enriquez. Lipetzky added MVP honors as the GAC Championships. He led the league with 103 strikeouts and a .201 batting average against. Enriquez hit .340 while ranking second in league with 63 runs scored and 71 RBI.
Southern Arkansas edged Arkansas Tech for third place. Mulerider closer Matt Kortendick led the league with nine saves. He posted a 6-3 record and a 1.51 ERA to land on the All-GAC Second Team. Second baseman Austin Baker stole a league-leading 32 bases to go along with a .348 average. Tech also brings back two Second-Team All-GAC honorees in third baseman Tristan Thomas and pitcher Hayes Cox. Thomas led the league with a .401 average while his .474 on-base percentage ranked fourth. Cox won six games and his 73 strikeouts rated fifth.
Harding took fifth place, followed by Southwestern Oklahoma State and Henderson State. Last year, the Bisons advanced to the final of the GAC Championships for the first time in program history. They bring back six All-GAC performers, led by Newcomer of the Year Ryder Yakel. He went 7-2 with a 1.48 ERA and six saves. He struck out 58 in 54.2 innings pitched and held the opposition to a .183 average. Luke Van Dover earned First-Team honors after he led the league with 21 doubles.
SWOSU must replace six of its seven 2019 All-GAC picks. Alex Bedard, a Second-Team All-GAC outfielder, ranked in the top three in doubles, triples, stolen bases and runs scored. The Reddies bring back a pair of Honorable Mention selections – outfielder Danny Mitchell and designated hitter Caleb Carr. Mitchell hit .318 with 18 stolen bases. Carr hit .306.
Southeastern Oklahoma State finished in the eighth position with Northwestern Oklahoma State and Ouachita in ninth and 10th, respectively. The Rangers must replace GAC Player of the Year Johnnuelle Ponce. He led the league in slugging and ranked second in both home runs and total bases. Ouachita returns First-Team All-GAC third baseman Tyler Riebock and Second-Team pitcher Brandon Matros. Riebock hit .315 and slugged .649. Matros limited opposing hitters to a .236 average.
East Central and Southern Nazarene rounded out the poll. The Crimson Storm features a new head coach in former pitcher Grant Ledbetter.
The 2020 season begins on Friday, January 31 with 10 teams taking to the diamond. The year concludes in Enid, Oklahoma with the GAC Championships set for May 2 through May 5.