The Great American Conference recently released its 2020 preseason baseball coaches poll and among the league’s top three teams for the eighth time since 2012 are the Southern Arkansas Muleriders, who checked in at No. 3 with 101 total points.
Reigning regular season champion Arkansas-Monticello tops the rankings totaling 120 points and 10 first place votes, while conference tournament champion Oklahoma Baptist sits just five points ahead of the Muleriders after receiving the remaining two first place votes.
The Muleriders are coming off a 29-20 (21-11 GAC) season a year ago, which saw the club miss out on the NCAA Postseason for the first time since 2016. However, SAU enters the new decade under fourth-year head coach Justin Pettigrew with high expectations as eight starters return for the 2020 campaign which includes five position players and three pitchers, while the roster will also boast 25 new faces.
Of the returners back in Magnolia, Southern Arkansas will again benefit from the services of a pair of all-region performers in senior second baseman Austin Baker (.348 BA, 32 SB) and senior relief pitcher Matt Kortendick (9 SV, 6 W, 1.51 ERA). Additionally, senior catcher/designated hitter Zach Muldoon (.288, 4 HR), junior infielders Cooper King (.310, 16 2B, 39 RBI) and Josh Walker (.265, 6 HR), and sophomore catcher/designated hitter Brett McGee (.300, 11 2B) are all back for SAU this spring. Joining Kortendick on the hill will be junior and fellow reliever Tanner Vaught (4 W, 51.2 IP) as well as a trio of starters in junior lefthander Hunter Brantley (5 W, 79 SO) and right-handed sophomores Remy Bilodeau (51.2 IP, 43 SO) and Parker Abrego (5 W, 42.1 IP).
In addition to those returning, newcomers include a pair of Division I transfers in senior shortstop Kobe Morris (Alabama) and senior right-hander Zach Smith (Central Arkansas), a trio of junior college outfielders in Jacob Martinez (Howard College), Ty Manning (Howard College), and Tucker Burton (Ranger College) as well as freshman pitcher Dakota Frachiseur (Horatio HS) and junior college transfer arm Jack Liddell (Connors State) that will all look to have an immediate impact.
Southern Arkansas opens the season in Cleburne, Texas, at the Alpine Fresh 4-HIM Classic. The Muleriders face Oklahoma Panhandle State on Friday, January 31 at 9 a.m. in the season-opener and will play three more times on opening weekend including Saturday matchups with Newman (9 a.m.) and Wayne State (4:30 p.m.). SAU will be in action at Walker Stadium at Goodheart Field for the first time in 2020 on the following weekend as the Muleriders host Missouri Western in a four-game series beginning Friday, February 7.
The GAC home-opening series, the first of 11 league series, begins on Valentine’s Day against Henderson State.
Opponents for nonconference midweek games include home-and-home matchups with Mississippi College and Delta State as well as a March 31 home game with Texas A&M-Texarkana.