Harding picked sixth in preseason poll

RUSSELLVILLE — On Wednesday, the Great American Conference announced the results of its 2023 baseball preseason coaches’ poll. Following the program’s first appearance at the NCAA Division II National Championships, Southern Arkansas enters the season as the favorite after receiving 10 first-place votes.

Harding placed sixth in the Great American Conference’s preseason coaches’ poll.

In 2022, the Muleriders collected their sixth GAC regular-season and tournament titles. They followed with undefeated runs at the Regional and Super Regional to advance to Cary, North Carolina for the first time. They return D2CCA and NCBWA National Pitcher of the Year Jeremy Adorno. He went 15-0 with a 2.83 ERA. He struck out 136 in 114.2 innings pitched. He notched eight complete games, including one against Rollins College at the National Championships, and four shutouts. SAU also brings back a pair of First-Team All-GAC selections in catcher Brett McGee and shortstop Riley Orr. McGee led the nation in walks and produced a .514 on-base percentage. Orr hit .372 with 12 stolen bases and 56 RBI. Brandon Nicoll ranked in the top six in Division II in doubles and RBI.

Henderson State received one first place and placed second in the poll. Last season, the Reddies earned their second-straight NCAA Tournament bid and reached the region final. Greyson Stevens, a Second-Team All-GAC first baseman, returns after hitting .351 with 10 home runs and 53 RBI. Two-way standout Cade Tucker also comes back after hitting .364 with seven home runs. He went 4-3 with 66 strikeouts in 67.1 innings pitched.

Oklahoma Baptist finished third after collecting the final outstanding first-place vote. The potent Bison offense led Division II in home runs per game. They return GAC Player of the Year Dan Pruitt. He ranked fifth in the country with 24 home runs. He added 17 stolen bases and a .390 average. Alex Schroeder collected 21 home runs. Isiah Lissade notched 16 home runs and 14 stolen bases. Kade Self hit .397 with 13 home runs and a .769 slugging percentage.

Southeastern Oklahoma State took fourth followed by Ouachita Baptist. The Savage Storm return Reid Rice, a First-Team All-GAC honoree. He hit .333 with 18 home runs and 53 RBI. The Tigers earned an at-large spot to the NCAA Tournament, their first berth since finishing as the national runner-up in 2008. The opened the tournament with an upset win of top-seeded Central Missouri. They return 2022 Freshman of the Year Wyatt Core. He hit .320 with nine home runs and 15 stolen bases. G. Allen led the team with 13 home runs and 56 RBI. Cooper Timmons paced the pitching staff with a 9-3 record.

Harding placed sixth, one point ahead of Arkansas-Monticello, while Arkansas Tech took eighth. The Bisons reliever Kyle Lane went 5-1 with a pair of saves in 15 appearances. He posted a 2.70 ERA and held the opposition to a .188 average. The Weevils’ second baseman Cade Thompson placed on the All-GAC First Team with a .355 average, 12 home runs and 14 stolen bases. The Wonder Boys bring back 2022 All-GAC First-Team outfielder Yadier Medina. He led the team with a .373 average.Northwestern Oklahoma State came in ninth followed by Southwestern Oklahoma State. East Central and Southern Nazarene shared 11th place. The Tigers feature a new head coach in Sunny Golloway. Golloway owns a 743-387-1 record in 19 years of coaching at the Division I level.

The regular season begins in three weeks as East Central and SWOSU hit on February 1. The rest of the league opens that February weekend. SAU, Henderson State, Southeastern, Ouachita Baptist and East Central participate in the second annual Dugan Collegiate Baseball Invitational.

The 2023 GAC Championships returns to the two-weekend format. The top four seeds host the best-of-three series on Friday, May 5. The four winners advance to a double-elimination tournament, scheduled for Thursday, May 11 to Saturday, May 13. For the first time in league history, Arvest Ballpark in Springdale serves as the venue for the event.