Southern Arkansas voted GAC preseason baseball favorite

Jan. 16—RUSSELLVILLE, Ark. — On Thursday, the Great American Conference announced the results of its 2024 GAC baseball coaches' poll. Southern Arkansas received 10 first-place votes from the league's head coaches to enter the season as the preseason favorite.

A season ago, the Muleriders captured both the GAC's regular-season and tournament titles. They reached the 40-win milestone for the 13th time in program history. They return four All-GAC performers in First-Team picks Jeremy Adorno, Isaiah Haynes and Brandon Nicoll plus Newcomer of the Year Mikel Howell. Adorno went 8-4 with 123 strikeouts in 109.1 innings pitched; Haynes registered 13 saves with a 1.65 ERA; Nicoll ranked third in the league with 69 RBI; Howell also won eight games while his 3.13 ERA led the GAC.

Arkansas Tech edged out Ouachita Baptist by two points for second place in the poll. Both the Wonder Boys and Tigers joined the Muleriders in the NCAA Division II Central Region Championships. Tech brings back six All-GAC picks in First-Team honorees John Gray, Mason Griffin and Keaton Ranallo; Second-Team outfielder Sawyer Duddleston plus Honorable Mention performers Brandon Bunton and Nick Jones. Gray stuck out 81 in 90.2 innings pitched with a 3.67 ERA. Griffin tallied eight saves and a 2.89 ERA while Ranallo hit a team-leading 11 home runs.

The 2024 Tigers feature their top three run producers from 2023 in G. Allen, Dustin Bermudez and Michael Quinones. They combined for 35 home runs and 149 RBI. Bermudez added 10 saves in relief. First-Team starting pitcher Cooper Timmons finished third in the GAC with 118 strikeouts and Luke House posted a 3.43 ERA splitting his time between starter and reliever.

Oklahoma Baptist placed fourth, followed by Henderson State. The Bison reached the final of the GAC Championships for the third time in program history. Alex Schroeder hit a league-leading 23 home runs, a total that ranked fifth in Division II. Brek Galbreath comes back after winning a league-high nine games. Jayden Shafer hit .357 with a .467 on-base percentage.

The Reddies return four 2023 All-GAC selections in third baseman Kaden Argenbright, relief pitcher Henry Coppens, starter Ryan Galvan and first baseman Luke Rice. Rice led the team in average, home runs and RBI. Argenbright hit .338; Coppens saved five games, struck out 45 in 33.2 innings and held opponents to a .142 average; Galvan went 5-5.

Arkansas-Monticello finished two points clear of Harding for sixth place. The Weevils must replace 2023 GAC Pitcher of the Year Mason Philley who led the conference in strikeouts, strikeout-to-walk ratio, and WHIP. Catcher Chaz Poppy returns after hitting .327 with a team-leading 44 RBI. Connor Irvine won seven games and struck out 97 in 83.0 innings of work. Kirk Woolf hit a team-leading nine home runs and stole 10 bases. Chase Cripps led the team with a .344 average.

Harding brings back six recognized by the GAC a season ago. Cooper Newsom earned Freshman of the Year after leading the nation in doubles per game after tallying 25 in 43 games. Starting pitcher Maddox Long and outfielder Coulton Doyle made the Second Team; Will Roguske, Sebastian Martinez and Collin Helms placed on the Honorable Mention Team.

Southeastern Oklahoma State claimed eighth, followed by Southwestern Oklahoma State and Northwestern Oklahoma State. The Savage Storm's UTL Damon Burroughs led the nation with nine triples while ranking second in the league with a .401 average and his 21 stolen bases ranked third. Reid Rice added a team-leading eight home runs. The Rangers return Hagen Barcello, whose 15 home runs ranked fifth in the conference.

Southern Nazarene and East Central rounded out the poll. The Tigers feature a new head coach in Kevin Paxson.

The regular season begins on Thursday, February 1. SAU, Ouachita Baptist, Henderson State and UAM participate at the Dugan Collegiate Baseball Invitational in Hot Springs. Oklahoma Baptist and ECU head to Central Oklahoma for the Edmond First Pitch Classic. The Wonder Boys participate in the Houston Winter Classic. Northwestern Oklahoma State, Southeastern Oklahoma State, Southern Nazarene and SWOSU open at home while Harding visits Delta State.

The 2024 GAC Championships will again feature an eight-team, two-weekend format. The top four seeds host best-of-three series on Friday, May 3 and Saturday, May 4. The four winners advance to a double-elimination tournament, scheduled for Thursday, May 9 to Saturday, May 11. The GAC will announce the final weekend venue prior to the start of the regular season.