2023 Gulf South Softball Championship

UAH Softball, Mississippi College Headline Gulf South Championship

UAH Softball, Mississippi College Headline Gulf South Championship

Before any GSC team can make it to the Division II tournament, they'll have to make it through the Gulf South Conference Softball Championship.

May 3, 2023 by Briar Napier
UAH Softball, Mississippi College Headline Gulf South Championship

Division II softball fans and watchers know exactly how much of a gauntlet the Gulf South Conference is, and that's no different in 2023.

One of the toughest conferences in the country, the GSC, as of this moment, has three teams ranked in the most recent National Fastpitch Coaches Association D-II Top 25 poll (and two more receiving votes), five teams already at the 30-win mark and plenty of players and units that rank among the best in Division II in various statistical categories. 

It’s considered a badge of honor to win any hardware in the GSC, often due to the fact that many of those same teams find themselves playing deep into May. 

But before any GSC team can make a push toward the Division II National Championship later on this month in Chattanooga, Tennessee, they first must get through their league’s top teams one last time this season as part of the GSC Championship. 

The winner of the tournament’s title game later this week seals its spot in a NCAA Regional round, though whichever program outlasts the other eight squads in the mix probably has loftier ambitions than just a regional stop.

The Alabama sun will bake down on the best of the best of the GSC softball season over the next few days. Only one, however, will get to bask in it with a tournament trophy in its grasp.

Here’s a look at the programs to keep eyes on this week in the GSC Softball Championship at Choccolocco Park in Oxford, Alabama, with all games in the tournament from May 3-6 being streamed live on FloSoftball:

No. 4 Auburn Montgomery

Record: 33-15 overall (22-7 Gulf South Conference)

The lowdown: It’s quite plausible that the fact that the Warhawks aren’t the GSC Championship’s top seed makes them even more dangerous than before. 

AUM entered the 2023 season as the two-time defending GSC regular-season and tournament title holder. Last season also included its deepest postseason run, a trip to the winner’s bracket of the NCAA Division II Softball Finals.

This season is different, as AUM finds itself on the ropes to qualify for the postseason at the moment as the No. 8-ranked team in the South Region (as of the NCAA’s latest rankings), needing a strong performance in the GSC tourney to solidify its standing and book its place in a regional. 

Of course, the Warhawks can just save themselves the drama by winning the league’s auto-bid outright, which they are more than capable of doing. 

AUM has been on an absolute tear the past couple of weeks, sweeping a nationally-ranked Valdosta State, before being the only GSC team to win its series this year against top-seeded Alabama Huntsville, which the Warhawks did last weekend to close regular-season play. 

It’ll have to get through VSU again this week to avoid the stress of the elimination bracket, but with one of the country’s best freshmen in outfielder Chloe Baynes (.412 average, .480 on-base percentage) and a productive 1-2 punch on the mound in Avery Dickerson (14-4, 2.49 ERA) and Morgan Ferguson (12-5, 2.81 ERA), it’s foolish to count AUM out before postseason games have been played. 

That being said, the Warhawks need to find an edge away from home. AUM was 17-0 in Montgomery this year, but between away and neutral-site games, was a mere 16-15.

No. 3 West Alabama

Record: 38-11 (23-7 GSC)

The lowdown: From finishing under .500 two years ago to having its most wins in 13 years, West Alabama has been one of the surprise breakout teams of the GSC regular season and enters the tourney as the hottest team in the conference on a league-best six-game winning streak. 

So, what’s been the key for the Tigers as they try and return to the NCAA Tournament? 

Only arguably the GSC’s best top-to-bottom pitching unit. 

Featuring the lowest team ERA (2.85 as of Tuesday afternoon) of any school in the league, UWA has tossed shutouts in a joint GSC-high 10 games.

Ace Madison Wright (one of the top newcomers in the league after transferring over this past offseason from the JUCO level) is in the hunt to finish as the league’s wins leader, holding a 23-7 record with a 2.17 ERA and 179 strikeouts in 177 2/3 innings pitched this season. 

A sweep against Union on the final regular-season weekend sealed the Tigers the No. 3 seed and gives them another crack at Montevallo, which they swept in March and outscored across three games by a combined 35-4. 

Leading hitter Taylor Clegg (.363 average) hat eight RBIs in that series, by the way, as she’s also one of five Tigers who have smacked at least 10 home runs on the season.

Freshman Ann Marie Stanbridge leads the way for UWA (and the GSC) in that regard with 20 homers on the year, though, while senior LP Trammel is close behind with 18. 

Beware of the Tigers this week.

No. 2 Mississippi College

Record: 40-8 (24-6 GSC)

The lowdown: Picked to finish eighth in the GSC’s preseason softball poll, the Choctaws instead rocketed toward the top of the regular-season title fight and gave champion Alabama Huntsville a run for its money with a 14-1 surge entering the league tourney. 

And, if you’re going to beat MC — especially considering the way it’s playing right now — your bats better show up. 

Not only did the Choctaws lead the GSC in runs scored in the regular season with 429, but the next-closest team in the league (West Alabama, 337) wasn’t even close, as MC enters the postseason ranked in the top 5 nationally in scoring with 18 games in which it scored 10 runs or more. 

Coach Brooke O’Hair, who is a win away from breaking the single-season school record for victories in her 17th season in charge, has in her possession the GSC’s only trio of over-.400 hitters in junior catcher McCall Lee (.434, 14 home runs, 62 RBIs), freshman outfielder Shelby Samples (.419, .490 on-base percentage) and sophomore utility Kamryn Eaton (.403, 16 home runs, 50 RBIs, .924 slugging percentage).

They're the ringleaders of what is the third-best-hitting lineup (.375 team batting average) in all of Division II. 

MC isn’t just breaking single-season school offense records, but shattering them.

The Choctaws’ previous season best for home runs was 41 in 2018, for instance, and that’s nearly been doubled (81 as of this writing) this year, before they’ve ever even played a conference tournament game. 

A rotation that can be tagged by a worthy lineup (4.42 team ERA in GSC play) is perhaps MC’s soft spot and method of attack to go toward for any team, in or out of the league, that wishes to take MC down.

But when the Choctaws are putting up runs at the level they are, does it even matter?

No. 1 Alabama Huntsville

Record: 40-9 (25-4 GSC)

The lowdown: Much like the Chargers have almost always been under legendary coach and GSC Hall of Famer Les Stuedeman (who lengthened her ongoing streak of no losing seasons since becoming the program’s first and only softball coach in 1995), UAH this year was the epitome of consistency and getting the job done with multiple double-digit winning streaks en route to a well-earned conference title and No. 1 tourney seed. 

Essentially certain to qualify for what will be their 20th consecutive NCAA Tournament — the longest active streak in Division II — as the No. 3 team in the South Region, the goal now for the Chargers is to accomplish that feat in style with a GSC regular season/Championship double for the first time since 2008. 

Freshman standout Katie Bracken, a two-time GSC Pitcher of the Week, has proven to be as good of an arm as any to lead UAH closer that way as the league’s low ERA leader (1.68) and thrower of 135 strikeouts in 112 1/3 innings in the circle, whereas the lineup, despite its apparent lack of big-play power (34 home runs in 49 games) on the surface, has had no problem bringing players around the bases as the third highest-scoring team in the GSC. 

Kinley Adams (.426 average) and Lawren Hayes (.405) is about as consistent of a hitting duo as it gets in the meantime, too, and in facing a West Florida program it swept aside in March at Charger Park, UAH should be favored to make a deep push this week and get closer to the lofty heights its achieved under Stuedeman in the past, up to and including a trip to the Division II finals.