The final weekend of the Great American Conference regular season is upon us, which means rivalry baseball will commence across Arkansas and Oklahoma in the next few days. One series that will have postseason and championship implications will take place in Weatherford, where the Bulldogs of Southwestern host the Rangers of Northwestern.
NOTE: The series schedule has changed due to possible weather concerns. The teams will play a doubleheader on Saturday at 1:30 pm before concluding with a single, nine-inning game on Sunday at 1:00 pm.
• Southwestern enters the weekend one game behind Arkansas-Monticello for the top spot in the Great American Conference standings after UAM swept Southeastern last weekend in Durant. The Bulldogs can lock up a spot as a series host for the first weekend of the GAC Tournament, but they’re also playing for more with their first conference championship of the NCAA Division II era within reach. Both teams were listed in the first edition of NCAA Regional Rankings and they will most certainly meet at some point this postseason after having their regular season series rained out in March. Monticello is at home to face rival Southern Arkansas on Friday and Saturday in their rivalry series.
• Northwestern enters the weekend in a three-way tie with Arkansas Tech and Ouachita Baptist at 11-19 records in conference play. The unfortunate part for the Rangers is that each team holds the head-to-head tie-breaker over the Black-and-Red. Several scenarios could come into play this weekend for the Rangers to get in the tournament including simply more wins than both ATU (at Harding) and OUA (at Henderson State) over the weekend. The other scenario that could come into play is if the Rangers were to sweep the Bulldogs and Southeastern was to down East Central in three straight games, allowing Northwestern to hold a tie-breaker.
• Southwestern’s offensive attack, which ranks second in the GAC with a .292 batting average and three different players to be named GAC Player of the Week (Jacob Spring, Korbin Polston, CJ Faddis), will be on display against a Northwestern pitching staff that ranks eighth in the conference. The Bulldogs have scored a league-best 309 runs with 15 triples and 32 home runs, while the Rangers pitching staff has an ERA of 4.94 with 259 runs allowed in 46 games. Northwestern’s pitchers have also issued a league-leading 184 walks, a trend that will hope to reverse this weekend.
• Northwestern is batting a collective .250 on the year while seven different players are batting over that clip, as well as two over the .300 mark in Thomas Bess (.338) and Xyruse Martinez (.313). Not only have those two been good at the plate, but also in the field as well as Bess is one of the best outfielder’s in the league as is Martinez at the shortstop position. The Rangers also have a flame-throwing right-hander named Robert Lawhon, who is second in the Great American Conference in strikeouts and will most certainly be a force to be reckoned with come this weekend.
• These two rivals played numerous times in the Oklahoma Intercollegiate Conference when both were members of the NAIA, but the series took a hiatus for many years. But it has been restored since Northwestern made the transition to the NCAA Division II and the two meet once again as part of the conference slate. Since 2012, the Bulldogs hold an 8-1 advantage over the Rangers.