Blossoms Set To Defend GAC Tournament Title

Courtesy of
Brian Ramsey

tv_sports 10dbMONTICELLO — The University of Arkansas at Monticello softball team is set to take on Southern Arkansas in the opening round of the 2013 Great American Conference Championship Tournament this Thursday, April 25 at 4 p.m. at the Tiger Athletic Complex on the campus of Bentonville High School.

   The Cotton Blossoms enter the event as the defending champions after posting four consecutive victories and outscoring their opponents 27-3 in the 2012 tournament. This season, UAM is the No. 4 seed after posting a regular season record of 28-23 overall and 14-12 in GAC games. UAM will face a familiar foe in the opening round, long-time school rival Southern Arkansas. SAU earned the No. 5 seed in the tournament after going 26-28 overall and 16-18 in GAC games during the regular season.

   Regardless of the outcome of Thursday’s opening round game against SAU, the Cotton Blossoms will play again at 8 p.m. on Thursday against the winner or the loser of the No. 1 Southeastern Oklahoma State vs. No. 8 Southwestern Oklahoma State opening-round matchup.

   All but two games of the 2013 championship tournament will be played at the Tiger Athletic Complex. The first two games of the loser’s bracket will be played at Bentonville’s Memorial Park.

   All games played at the Tiger Athletic Complex will feature live streaming video coverage via the GAC Sports Network. Live stats will also be available at the main field. The UAM Sports Network will provide live audio play-by-play for all of UAM’s contests online and on the radio in Monticello at KHBM-FM 93.7. Links to live coverage are available at http://www.uamsports.com.

15TH CONFERENCE TOURNAMENT, 14TH CONSECUTIVE

   This year’s Great American Conference Championship Tournament appearance marks UAM’s 15th overall conference tournament appearance and 14th consecutive appearance in the short 18-year history of the program. Last year’s GAC tournament title was UAM’s best finish in a conference tournament. The Cotton Blossoms advanced to the finals of the Gulf South Conference tournament in its last season as a member of the league. Granted these past two seasons, UAM has earned a tournament berth by default with only eight eligible softball-playing schools in the GAC. Starting in the 2014 season, Harding will become the GAC’s ninth conference tournament eligible softball playing school. Northwestern Oklahoma State and Southern Nazarene will not be eligible for postseason participation until they are non-provisional members of the NCAA Division II.

16TH WINNING SEASON

   The 2013 campaign marks the 16th winning season in the 18-year history of the UAM softball program. Since the inaugural 1996 season and including this season, the Cotton Blossoms have an all-time record of 630-336-2 for an all-time .652 winning percentage. In addition to last season’s GAC regular season and tournament championships, UAM won seven Gulf South Conference Western Division championships and have qualified for the NCAA regional tournament on four different occasions, most recently losing in the 2011 sub-region finals to West Alabama. UAM advanced to the South super-regional in 2010 and was one win away from reaching the NCAA Division II World Series before losing twice to host Valdosta State to end UAM’s most successful season in program history (55-13).

EARLY ECLIPSES 600 WINS IN SEASON OPENER

   UAM head coach Alvy Early earned his 600th career victory on opening day of the 2013 season in an 11-3 win over Washburn at home in UAM’s Hampton Inn Classic. Now in his 17th season at the helm of the team (all but one year in program history), Early has built a career record of 626-314-2 (.665 pct.), which includes a 274-142-1 all-time record in conference games and a 35-17 record in Great American Conference games.

UAM DRAWS RIVAL SAU IN OPENING ROUND

   UAM will meet in-state rival Southern Arkansas in the opening round of the GAC championship tournament on Thursday, April 25 at 4 p.m. It will be the 64th all-time meeting between the two squads. UAM holds the all-time series lead 43-20. The Cotton Blossoms have won seven straight contests against the Lady Muleriders, including a four-game sweep two weeks ago in Monticello. Two of those wins came down to one run, including a marathon 7-6 win in 13 innings. UAM also used a complete-game one-hitter from Katie Slaughter to win 1-0 in the series finale. UAM met SAU in the GAC Tournament semifinals in last year’s inaugural event with the Blossoms coming away with an 8-0 five-inning win to advance to the tournament finals.

HOME AWAY FROM HOME

   The Cotton Blossoms have played 31 games at Bentonville High School’s Tiger Athletic Complex over the past four seasons, the home of the GAC Softball Championship Tournament. UAM hosts an annual tournament in Bentonville each season, featuring Division II teams from as many as seven states. This year in the 7-State Classic, UAM went 4-4 to give the program an all-time record of 23-8 at the Tiger Athletic Complex. UAM head coach Alvy Early’s son, Kent, is the head softball coach at Bentonville High School. The softball field at the Tiger Athletic Complex is a state-of-the-art softball facility with a seating capacity of 500, a skinned infield and a synthetic turf outfield, as well as a fully-functioning press box. For one of UAM’s 19 roster members, this will be a home visit. Freshman Kali Piha played for Kent Early at Bentonville High School before becoming a Blossom this season.

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