The Show Must Go On: GSC Tourney Moved

Arkansas Tech has waited three years to make it back to the Gulf South Conference Baseball Tournament. So what’s another 48 hours?

Nationally 27th-ranked Arkansas Tech (34-17) will face North Alabama (27-22) in the Wonder Boys’ first GSC Baseball Tournament game since 2007 at 9:30 a.m. Monday at Ferriss Field in Cleveland, Miss. The double-elimination tournament was scheduled to begin on Saturday at USA Stadium in Millington, Tenn., but it was pushed back two days because of weather forecasts that called for 5-8 inches of rain in Millington this weekend.

Then, after levees in the Millington area gave way and thousands of residents were forced to evacuate on Sunday, the decision was made to move the tournament to the campus of Delta State University in Cleveland. Radio station KCAB 980 AM will broadcast the Tech-UNA game in the Arkansas River Valley on Monday morning. The broadcast will be streamed over the Internet at The Wonder Boys are the No. 2 seed from the GSC West in the 2010 GSC Tournament. The keys to Arkansas Tech’s lofty seed were back-to-back three-game sweeps of Ouachita Baptist (April 10-11) and Delta State (April 17-18). Since that historic sweep of the Statesmen (Tech became the first team to ever sweep a three-game GSC series at Delta State), the Wonder Boys have lost 3-of-4.

Tech has scored 10 or more runs in 22 games this season, but the Wonder Boys have failed to score more than five runs in any of their three losses since April 24. They were shut out for just the second time this season and for the first time since Feb. 27 when Harding beat Tech 5-0 last Sunday.

Stolen bases have been the fuel for the Wonder Boys’ offensive success in 2010. Tech has set new single-season school records for runs scored (465), base hits (581) and runs batted in (393), but the most critical factor in its attack all year has been its prowess on the base paths.

The Wonder Boys have stolen 134 bases this season, which is 50 more than any Arkansas Tech team has ever stolen before. Tech ranks first in the GSC and tied for fourth in NCAA Division II in stolen bases in 2010.

That is all very, very bad news for North Alabama.

The Lions, No. 3 seed from the GSC East Division, start a converted infielder — Kevin Williams — at catcher. He had never played catcher before this, his senior season, at North Alabama.

UNA has allowed the most passed balls (25) of any team in the GSC this season and Williams has only thrown out 22 percent of would-be base stealers.

On the flip side, Williams is a likely candidate to recover any runs he allows with his mitt and throwing arm with his bat. He’s hitting .370 with eight home runs and 25 runs batted in for a Lions’ offense that desperately needs his pop in the line-up.

UNA has the fewest home runs (23) and the lowest team batting average (.293) of any team in the GSC Tournament field.

Williams is one of four All-GSC East Division selections on the Lions’ roster. The others are outfielder Chase Porch (.371, four home runs, 41 RBIs) and starting pitchers Mitch Handley (5-4, 4.48 earned run average) and Trey Mitchell (4-5, 4.74 ERA).

In addition, UNA first baseman Josh Cyr (.341, four home runs, 26 RBIs) was voted GSC East Division freshman of the year.

Arkansas Tech is led by six All-GSC West Division performers.

Junior center fielder Matt Johnson (.415, four home runs and 39 RBIs) has set a new school record for base hits in a season (78) and he is one stolen base away from tying a 57-year old school record (33 stolen bases by Sammy May in 1953) in that category.

Senior left fielder/pitcher Chad Wynn (.367, three home runs, 44 RBIs, 26 stolen bases) is third among the Wonder Boys in batting average and first in earned run average (3.26).

Senior right-handed pitcher Josh Floriani (10-2, 4.88 ERA) is only the fourth Arkansas Tech pitcher to ever win 10 or more games in a season.

Junior third baseman Nick Makris (.417, six home runs, 53 RBIs) has been Tech’s best hitter for the last month. He is hitting .515 (35-of-68) with two home runs and 23 RBIs in his last 18 games.

Senior designated hitter Joe Walton (.418, one home run, 26 RBIs) and sophomore catcher Landon Sullins (.299, five home runs, 24 RBIs) rounded out the Wonder Boys’ 2010 all-conference representatives.

One Arkansas Tech player not selected All-GSC who posted all-conference numbers was Clint Stroud. An All-GSC West pick in 2009, Stroud is hitting .347 with four home runs and 56 RBIs in 2010.

Pitcher Blaine Sims is another Wonder Boy that certainly could have been named All-GSC based on his numbers. The left-handed junior is 6-3 with a 4.53 ERA.

The winner of the Tech-UNA game will play at 1 p.m. Tuesday against the winner of a first-round game between nationally 30th-ranked West Florida (34-16) and Henderson State (31-16).

The losers between Tech-UNA and UWF-HSU will play an elimination game at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday.

Other first-round games on Monday will pit nationally fourth-ranked Southern Arkansas (39-6) against Alabama-Huntsville (26-16) at 4:15 p.m. and nationally 18th-ranked Delta State (34-14-1) against nationally 14th-ranked Valdosta State (37-14) at 7:30 p.m.