Southland Conference Tournament Central

HUNTSVILLE – The second season starts on Wednesday for the Sam Houston State Bearkats when they face Central Arkansas, the host team for the Southland Conference Tournament at Farris Field.

The Kats will be making their 14th SLC tournament in program history and enter as the No. 4 seed in the six-team field. Each of the first nine games of the tournament can be viewed live on the Southland Conference Digital Network while the championship game can be watched on ESPN3 and the WatchESPN app.

First pitch for the tournament opener is set for Wednesday at 1:30 at Farris Field. The winner will face the SLC regular season champ McNeese at 6:30 p.m. while the loser will play an elimination game on Thursday at 11 a.m. against the loser of No. 2 Nicholls and the winner of the opening-round game between No. 3 Lamar and No. 6 Northwestern State.

The Kats have a SLC Tournament record of 31-22 and have reached the championship game five times, winning the conference tournament title twice.

The Bearkats and Bears squared off once this season in a three-game series at the Bearkat Softball Complex with Sam Houston winning the series 2-1. Sam Houston brought their bats to the series, teeing off for a total of 20 runs off 25 hits throughout the weekend. The Bearkats pitching staff also put in their fair share of work in shutting the Bears out twice.

Sam Houston heads into Conway fresh off a three-game sweep of Houston Baptist in which they seemed to find an offensive rhythm, setting a season high in single-game with 17 hits in the nightcap of Friday's doubleheader. The pitching staff was clicking too in the series, allowing five earned runs throughout the weekend.

Senior Tori Koerselman, who was recently named first team all-SLC on Monday, has set the offensive pace for the Bearkats so far with the fifth best batting average in the SLC (.381), Koerselman also leads the team in multiple other categories including on base percentage (.448), hits (56), doubles (9), and stolen bases (14). Koerselman has drove in 20 runs on the season despite being the primary lead-off hitter, giving her the fourth-best Bearkat mark in that category.

The freshman class for the Bearkats continues to be outstanding, with Tiffany Thompson receiving SLC Honorable Mention at shortstop as well. Thompson leads Bearkats in homers (7), RBI (30) and slugging percentage (.511) and can become the first freshman since Stacy Jackson in 1997 to lead the Kats in both homers and RBI in the same year.

Hannah Marino, another SLC Honorable Mention player, has made the most of her senior season playing for her hometown Bearkats needing only 54 at-bats to drive in the third most runs on the team (21) and put four balls past the outfield fences.

The dynamic pitching duo of Lindsey McLeod and Tayler Atkinson has also been stellar so far with both pitchers carrying a sub-3.00 ERA entering the tournament. McLeod was another Bearkat who received an all-SLC honorable mention nod, leading the conference in opposing batting average (.195).

Meanwhile, Central Arkansas comes in off a series win over Northwestern State, a team which also qualified in the sixth spot for the SLC tournament.

Briana Whisenhunt is one of two Bears who has started all 56 games on the season, while doing so she has achieved the highest batting average mark on the team (.299) and drove in 21 runs with two homeruns. Kaylyn Shepherd also has paced the Bears offensive attack with a .297 batting average and drove in 19 runs. Cylla Hill has shown her offensive presence in the Bears lineup leading the team in RBI (29) with a .250 batting average.

Central Arkansas' ace, second team all-SLC choice Kayla Gomness, leads the pitching staff in terms of ERA (2.26), strikeouts (99), innings pitched (213.2) and opposing batting average (.260). The Bears' second option in the circle is sophomore Ellie Reaves who has 66.2 innings under her belt in 2017 striking out 34 while opponents hit .305 against her.

Since the team's first meeting in 2007 the series has been one of the more competitive Sam Houston has been a part of with Central Arkansas holding a 15-13 advantage. But, in the three meetings that have taken place in SLC Tournament play, Sam Houston has won two out of the three. Sam Houston and Central Arkansas have already squared off this year with Sam Houston winning two out of three games.

The Cowgirls enter the tournament in defense of last year's crown and as the top overall seed. McNeese owns the overall series advantage to the tune of 67-61-1, sweeping the Bearkats earlier this year and winning 10 out of last 12 overall. In SLC Tournament play the teams have matched up seven times with McNeese holding a 4-3 lead. The last SLC tournament game between the two squads was in 2012 with Sam Houston winning a nine-inning showdown, 3-2.

Sam Houston holds a 47-44 series advantage over the Colonels since the first meeting in 1981. In SLC tournament play the Colonels have won both games against the Bearkats with the last meeting coming in 2008 when the Colonels eliminated the Bearkats, 2-1.

Sam Houston is 23-7 all-time against the Cardinals, but is only 6-5 since the Lamar resurrected the program in 2013. The Bearkats dropped two of three close contests against the Cardinals when they faced off in Beaumont earlier this year. The Kats and Cardinals have split their two contests in SLC tournament play with Lamar winning the most recent tilt in 2016's opening round, 6-2.

Sam Houston and Northwestern State are no strangers as they have faced off 111 times since the program started in 1981. The Kats have dropped five of the last six contests against the Demons. The Demons picked up a pitchers-duel win against the Kats early in 2017 play in the ULM Mardi Gras Classic in Monroe, La., by a score of 2-0. In SLC tournament play the Kats and Demons have faced each other eight times with the last meetings coming in 2013 when they faced off three separate times before the Demons eventually knocked off the Kats in the championship game, 1-0. The Kats have gone 3-5 against the Demons altogether in SLC tourney play.