ENID, OK – For the fifth-consecutive year and fourth-straight time as members of the Great American Conference, the Southern Arkansas Mulerider baseball team captured a tournament championship after defeating Henderson State 6-3 on Wednesday afternoon at David Allen Memorial Ballpark in Enid, Oklahoma.
The Muleriders received a strong outing by junior right-hander Landon Simpson, who just days earlier defeated Southeastern Oklahoma St. by tossing a complete game in the tournament opener. Simpson, the tournament MVP, scattered five hits over six innings of work to earn his second tournament victory.
Each team stranded a runner in the first inning, before Southern Arkansas broke the scoreless tie in the home half of the second inning. With two outs, Trevor Rucker blasted a solo homerun to left centerfield to give SAU an early 1-0 lead. Henderson State quickly answered in the top of the third as Andrew Reynolds doubled to lead off the inning and a pair of groundouts eventually scored him.
In the fourth, the Muleriders again took the lead as they plated two runs on four hits in the inning to cushion Simpson’s start. Korey Keith walked and Southern Arkansas quickly had runners at first and second after Billy Germaine singled through the left side. Carver Rademacher followed suit with a single into left field that chased home Keith.
Rucker collected his second hit of the day with a single into centerfield that loaded the bases, before Chris Quinn delivered with a two-out single that dropped into shallow right centerfield to end the run-scoring fourth inning.
For Henderson State in the fifth inning, Hunter Mayall singled home Conner Brackhan to pull the Reddies to within a run, 3-2. But in the bottom half of the inning, Southern Arkansas pushed across three runs on four hits to increase their lead by four, 6-2.
Jon Phillips singled through the right side and Keith reached on a bunt single. Rademacher followed with a two-out infield single to the shortstop that extended the inning. On a 1-2 count, Byron Reichstein doubled into right centerfield that emptied the bases to give SAU the aforementioned 6-2 lead.
In his 15th and final inning of work in the tournament, Simpson worked around two hits and a fielding error as he stranded a pair of Reddies in scoring position in the sixth.
Colton Strother took the mound for Southern Arkansas in relief of Simpson and recorded an out in his second appearance of the tournament, before Henderson State placed runners at first and second on a pair of singles. Jared Fielden entered in relief of Strother and HSU plated a run on a throwing error in the seventh, but Fielden would shut down the Reddies over the next two innings as he would allow only one hit in 2.2 innings of relief to earn the save.
Southern Arkansas produced 13 hits in the championship game, led by Rucker’s three hits and a pair of hits apiece from Keith, Rademacher and Quinn.
The tournament championship earns the Muleriders their eighth-straight regional tournament appearance and an automatic bid to the NCAA Division II Central Region Tournament to be played May 14-17 at a site to be determined.
Simpson becomes the third Southern Arkansas pitcher to be named GAC Tournament MVP after Justin Thomas (2012) and James Baune (2013) took home the honor. A native of Magnolia, Simpson scattered 13 hits in 15 innings of work while striking out 4 in picking up a pair of wins in a span of five days.
Joining Simpson on the All-Tournament team was staff-mate Yumezo Densaki. The Osaka, Japan, native tied a career-high with nine strikeouts in a strong 8.1 innings of work in a 4-2 win over Ouachita Baptist.
Managing the staff was junior catcher Justin Buchanan who earned All-Tournament team honors after slugging a team-leading .643 in 14 at bats. Of his five hits, four were doubles and the native of Texarkana, Texas, produced six RBIs while batting .357 during the tournament. Defensively he posted a perfect fielding percentage behind the plate.
Tournament MVP in 2014, Rucker was selected to the 2015 team after posting a .368 batting average in five games that included seven hits (2B, HR), five runs and three RBIs. The sophomore outfielder from Prescott, Arkansas, stole five bases to bring his season total to 24. Fellow outfielder Reichstein, a native of St. Thomas, Ontario, Canada, collected a team-high seven RBIs on five hits that included a pair of doubles and a dinger to make the All-Tournament team.
Arguably the most impressive defensive performance of the GAC Tournament, second baseman Chase Harvey was tabbed to the All-Tournament team after producing a perfect fielding percentage that included 14 putouts and 25 assists. The Paris, Texas, native batted .333 with seven hits including three doubles and three RBIs.
Southern Arkansas patiently awaits the conclusion of the MIAA and NSIC tournaments to find out the location of the 2015 NCAA Division II Central Region tournament. The selection show is at 9 p.m. on Sunday, May 10. Check muleriderathletics.com for more details.