By CHASE HARTSELL | OBU Sports Digital Network
In the context of college life, May often symbolizes closure as the academic year nears its end. At Rab Rodgers Field, however, the postseason is just beginning to heat up for the Ouachita baseball program. Following a 2-0 victory over Henderson State on Sunday in game three of Battle of the Ravine, the Tiger baseball team has locked up the No. 2 seed in the Great American Baseball Championships. As a result, it will host a best-of-three series in the opening round of the tournament on their home turf this weekend against in-state rival Harding.
Ouachita’s season at a glance
At the start of the 2022 season, GAC voters picked a relatively young Ouachita squad to finish amongst the conference’s bottom three teams. By season’s end, the Tigers proved that this was a gross underestimation. The program recorded its first 30-win season in a decade and finished fifth in the conference before reaching the semifinals of the Great American Conference Baseball Championships. This strong showing earned the Tigers their first NCAA Tournament selection since 2008, when they reached the national championship game.
Although expectations from voters were noticeably higher entering this season, Ouachita managed to exceed expectations yet again. In 2023, the Tigers followed up last year’s success with a 35-win regular season, which is the program’s best win total since 2009. Head coach Luke Howard also picked up his 100th win with the team during a sweep of Southeastern Oklahoma State. A team picked to finish fifth in the conference in the preseason, the current Ouachita squad finished second in the final Great American Conference standings.
In total, the Tigers won eight of their 11 GAC series during conference play. At home, Ouachita is 17-8 on the year, having dropped only one home conference series over the course of the regular season. The Tigers are receiving votes in the most recent Collegiate Baseball Division 2 national poll, and they are also ranked fifth in the Central Region of the current National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association poll.
With an impressive resume already to its credit, the Tiger baseball team will look to lock up a series victory over Harding this weekend in order to punch its ticket to Northwest Arkansas for the conference semifinals and a chance at both a GAC title and a return trip to the NCAA Tournament.
Harding at a glance
The visiting Bisons enter the GAC Baseball Championships as the No. 7 seed in the conference. Though it compiled a 33-17 record over the course of the regular season, Harding’s squad played noticeably better at home than on road. Nine wins in a limited total of 19 road games this season could indicate that the Bisons struggle in hostile territory; a number in stark contrast to the team’s 24-7 record at home. Nonetheless, Harding is capable of putting up plenty of runs on the road, as it showed during a 16-5 run-rule victory over No. 3 seed Arkansas Tech in the regular season finale.
Dating back to 1958, the Ouachita and Harding baseball programs have faced each other a grand total of 199 times. The Tigers narrowly lead the series in that span with 99 wins, 98 losses, and two ties. When the two teams square off Friday afternoon, it will be their 200th meeting in the last 65 years.
Since the start of the 2022 season, Ouachita and Harding have played each other 11 times. Ouachita has won 10 of those matchups, including a sweep of the official GAC series between the two squads at Rab Rodgers Field in April. The Bisons proved victorious in the most recent meeting: a 9-1 win during a midweek game that saw Harding come out on top in front of its home fans. The two teams faced off in an elimination game during the 2022 GAC Tournament, with the Tigers earning a 17-3 victory over their in-state rivals.
Tigers to watch
Cooper Timmons, SP
Cooper Timmons will have a chance to reach multiple milestones when he faces off against the Bisons this weekend. The junior ace from League City, Texas, currently leads the team with 96 strikeouts, and he will have a chance to become just the second player in program history to record 100 or more strikeouts in a season. His 240 career punchouts place him third on the Tigers’ career strikeout list: just two shy of second-place John Franklin Matros’ 242. Don’t be surprised if Timmons writes his way into the record books in more ways than one against Harding.
Luke House, SP
Standing at 6’6” and touting a powerful fastball, this sophomore from Decatur, Texas, was born to pitch. Initially slated to play outfield for the Tigers, House made the move to the bullpen prior to the start of the 2022 season. Over the course of the 2023 season, he has earned a spot in the starting rotation, and the native Texan has made the most of his opportunities in this role. In his last four appearances, House has recorded four quality starts, including a complete-game victory against Harding on April 8. His 3.25 ERA paces the Ouachita rotation, and he is also second on the team in strikeouts (56) and wins (6). Look for the sophomore to keep his momentum rolling at Rab Rodgers Field this weekend.
Dustin Bermudez, SS/CP
An all-around athlete, Dustin Bermudez is one of the Tigers’ strongest players at the plate, in the field, and on the mound. As a shortstop, the junior from Chandler, Arizona, is leading the team in runs batted in (52) and is tied for the team’s best home run total (11). The month of April, in particular, proved to be a power surge for the two-way player: he hit nine home runs over the course of the month, including two in his team’s series against Harding. On the mound, Bermudez is proving himself to be one of the best closers the Great American Conference has to offer. His 10 saves in 2023 are a single-season record for Ouachita, and he will have opportunities to grow that total in the postseason to come. As the Tigers host the Bisons in the first round of the GAC Tournament, watch for Bermudez to be a major factor at multiple positions.
G Allen, LF
After making the move from third base to the outfield early in the 2023 season, Allen has proved himself to be a complete offensive package for the Tigers. In addition to leading the team in batting average (.379), slugging percentage (.665), runs (55), and stolen bases (11), the junior from Little Rock, Arkansas, is also tied for the team lead in home runs (11) and on-base percentage (.487). His 24 career home runs rank fourth in school history. In Ouachita’s winningest campaign since joining the Great American Conference, Allen has proven himself a consistent contributor. Look for the Tigers to turn to his consistency again this weekend.
Wyatt Core, RF/DH
While his recent success (three home runs and eight RBI in three games) against Henderson State doesn’t hurt, it is this sophomore’s versatility that earns him a spot on this list. A native of Fayetteville, Arkansas, Core faced a home run drought until recent weeks, but that didn’t stop him from posting the Tigers’ second-highest batting average in the regular season (.364). The 2022 GAC Freshman of the Year is a relentless batter who is always looking to start a run or keep one going in any way that he can. When rally time rolls around, don’t be surprised if Core looks right at home.
Jud Arrington, 2B
After earning a spot on the conference’s All-Tournament Team as a designated hitter in 2022, Arrington, a senior from Allen, Texas, will look to put together another strong showing this May. Entering the 2023 GAC Tournament, Tigers’ second baseman is tied with Allen for the team lead in on-base percentage (.487), which is the fifth-best mark in that category in program history. A disciplined batter with a solid glove (.970 fielding percentage), look for this senior to give the Bisons some headaches at the plate and in the field in the first round.
Stars on the field and in the classroom
On May 2, Ouachita Athletics held its annual awards banquet, where the program recognized two baseball athletes. Dustin Bermudez earned a spot as the baseball team’s representative on the All-Ouachita Athletic, while G Allen represented the team on the All-Ouachita Academic Team. Later in the evening, Ouachita recognized Allen as its Scholar Athlete of the Year.
Game times and additional info
Game one of the first round series between Ouachita and Harding will take place at 3:00 p.m. on Friday, May 5. The second game in the best-of-three series will begin at noon on Saturday and, if necessary, a third game will also be played later that afternoon. All games in the series will take place at Rab Rodgers Field on the campus of Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia. The Ouachita Sports Digital Network (OSDN) will provide free live streams of all three games at osdn.live. Visit obutigers.com or the Ouachita Baseball and Ouachita Tigers Athletics social pages for more information.
The winner of the best-of-three series between Harding and Ouachita will advance to the semifinals of the Great American Conference Baseball Championships, which will take place at Arvest Ballpark in Springdale, Arkansas, from May 11-13. The winner of the Tigers-Bisons matchup will initially face the winner of the series between Arkansas Tech and Oklahoma Baptist. The format will shift to double elimination for the second round of the GAC Baseball Championships.
The NCAA Division II Baseball Tournament will begin on Thursday, May 18, and it will culminate in the D2 College World Series in Cary, North Carolina, from June 3-10.