Softball to host conference tournament

Senior second baseman Madeline Lee prepares to field a ground ball April 16 vs. Union University. The Lions (46-5, 30-3 Gulf South Conference) will host the GSC tournament April 28-30 at the UNA Softball Complex.

by Associate Sports Editor Justin Jefferies

This weekend marks yet another monumental moment in UNA softball history.

To add to the list of records and milestones the team achieved this year, UNA will host the Gulf South Conference softball tournament for the first time April 28-30.

Until 2015, the GSC tournament took place at a neutral site, but now the regular season champion earns the right to host, said UNA head coach Ashley Cozart.

“That was definitely one of our goals at the beginning of the year was to host conference tournament,” she said. “We’re very comfortable here, and we always have great crowds at home.”

After hosting a successful GSC soccer tournament last fall, the UNA athletics department is looking forward to hosting the softball tournament in Florence, said UNA athletics director Mark Linder.

“Whenever your team — during the regular season — can earn home field advantage, that’s quite an accomplishment,” Linder said. “You get to sleep in your own bed, and you don’t have to travel. There are a lot of advantages to playing at home, so hopefully that results in doing well in the tournament.”

UNA clinched their first GSC regular season title since 1989 after completing a three-game sweep of Union University April 16. Being the favorite in the tournament means each team will bring their A-game, said senior second baseman Madeline Lee.

“We know we have a huge target on our back,” she said. “Our thing is to just focus on (playing) one game at a time.”

UNA is at the top of several statistical categories in the GSC including batting average, total bases and fielding percentage, among others. Senior first baseman Brooklynn Clark leads the Lions with a GSC-best .481 batting average and the single season school record of 60 RBIs.

UNA is also putting up stellar numbers on the mound. The Lions bring two of the top starting pitchers into the GSC tournament in juniors Raven Cole and Hillary Carpenter.

Cole set the school record for wins in a season with 23, while Carpenter broke the career record for wins at UNA earlier in the year.

Pitching is always important in the conference tournament, and UNA will use their previous matchups to determine a starter, Cozart said.

“What has been great for us is that Hillary has done really well against some teams, and Raven has done well against the others,” she said. “We are just going to go back and look at the books and see who matches up better with who.”

The Lions are hoping to avenge last year’s loss to Shorter in the GSC finals by capturing their first GSC tournament championship since 1986.

The key to winning the conference championship is maintaining what the team has done all year, said senior catcher Carmen Whitfield.

“We just have to stay focused on doing what we do best,” she said. “We know the crowd will be great, and we are just excited to play.”

As the No. 1 seed, the Lions will meet the winner of No. 4 seed Alabama-Huntsville and No. 5 seed Delta State April 28 at 5:30 p.m.