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Millington Bound: Tech Set for GSC Tourney

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Ten years ago, one of the greatest hitters in the history of Arkansas Tech baseball led the Wonder Boys on an improbable run to the Gulf South Conference Tournament championship round. Perhaps history will repeat itself this weekend as Arkansas Tech makes its ninth and final appearance in the event. The Wonder Boys (29-17) will take on nationally top-ranked West Florida (42-6) at 4:15 p.m. on Friday, May 6, in the opening round of the double elimination 2011 GSC Baseball Tournament at USA Stadium (photgraphed) in Millington, Tenn. Arkansas Tech is the No. 4 seed from the GSC West Division, while West Florida is the No. 1 seed from the GSC East. Radio station KCAB 980 AM will broadcast the game in the Arkansas River Valley.

Click here to access an Internet stream of that broadcast.

Those 2001 Wonder Boys finished third in the GSC West Division regular season race, but led by All-America first baseman John Paul Davis of Russellville they went all the way to the final game of the 2001 GSC Tournament before falling to Alabama-Huntsville. Davis set single-season school records for home runs (18) and runs batted in (76) in 2001 that have not been seriously challenged in the decade since. Now, another All-America candidate is setting Arkansas Tech records that may remain on the books for long to come. Senior center fielder Matt Johnson of Grand Saline, Texas, is hitting a GSC-best .465 with nine home runs and 49 RBIs this season.

The GSC West Division baseball player of the year, Johnson has established new school records for base hits (92) and runs scored (72) this season. He broke the records in those categories that he set just one year ago. His 92 hits are most in NCAA Division II this year. Johnson is threatening to break his own school record for single-season stolen bases. He swiped 36 bases last year and has 35 steals so far in 2011. He needs five total bases to surpass Davis’ single-season school record in that category. The Wonder Boys have never won the GSC Baseball Tournament. That runner-up finish 10 years ago is by far their best showing in the event.

This will be Tech’s last chance to improve upon that finish because next year Arkansas Tech and eight other institutions (Arkansas-Monticello, East Central, Harding, Henderson State, Ouachita Baptist, Southeastern Oklahoma State, Southern Arkansas and Southwestern Oklahoma State) will move forward to the new NCAA Division II Great American Conference.

Arkansas Tech has an all-time record of 5-16 in the GSC Baseball Tournament. One of those losses came at the hands of West Florida.

The Argonauts defeated the Wonder Boys 9-4 in the first round of the 2004 GSC Tournament behind an 11-strikeout performance by starting pitcher Todd Androsko. Seven years later, the strength of the West Florida team is once again pitching. The Argonauts lead the GSC and rank 14th in NCAA Division II in team earned run average (2.81). Opponents have a batting average of just .226 against UWF pitchers, and the Argonauts have only allowed 11 home runs in 391 and one-third innings of work this season. Arkansas Tech counters with an offense that leads the GSC and ranks fifth nationally in team batting average (.348). The Wonder Boys are tops in the GSC and fourth in the country in home runs (61). Tech also leads the GSC in slugging percentage (.570), runs scored (413), base hits (530) and doubles (120). West Florida swept a three-game series from the Wonder Boys March 12-13 in Pensacola, Fla. The Argonauts won by scores of 8-7, 6-2 and 5-0. The winner of the Tech-UWF game will play at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, May 7, against the winner between Valdosta State and Southern Arkansas. The loser of the Tech-UWF contest will play an elimination game at 4:15 p.m. on Saturday, May 7, against the loser between VSU and SAU. Other first-round games on Friday, May 6, will pit Delta State against North Alabama and Alabama-Huntsville against Harding. The GSC Baseball Tournament is scheduled to conclude with the championship game on Tuesday, May 10.

Click here to view the 2011 GSC Baseball Tournament home page.

Click here to learn more about Arkansas Tech baseball.