Head coach Jason Anderson has quickly built up a powerhouse -- a literal powerhouse -- at Southern Arkansas. SAU is the most homer-happy program in Division II, blasting home runs with more regularity than anyone, at an astounding 2.15 per game.
Leading the surge is senior infielder Maddie Dow.
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Dow is DII’s active home run leader, so it might not come as much of a surprise that she is also the current leader, with 10 round-trippers in 2017. It isn’t inconceivable that Dow will end her career as DII’s all-time home run leader. She needs 17 more to catch Kutztown’s Stephanie Denlinger, who blasted 79 home runs from 2006 to 2009.
"My approach at the plate changes, depending on the situation that I'm in at the time," Dow said. "I don't ever intentionally try to hit a home run. I just clear my head and react to what the pitcher is throwing me and whatever happens, happens. It is so much fun to be part of this team and the power that we have collectively as a lineup. Watching my teammates be successful and greeting them at home plate is one of my favorite things."
Offense by the boat load.
"Our entire lineup is packed with power, and opposing pitcher's don't really get a break," Dow said. "I have every confidence in the world in all of my teammates. I know that if I'm not successful in a certain situation, whoever is behind me is going to pick me up and get the job done."
Five Muleriders are among DII’s top 35 in home runs. Their potent top of the order leads the way. Leadoff hitter Brooke Goad is batting .406 with seven home runs and 25 RBIs. Dow, who bats in the two-hole, is batting .444 with 29 RBIs to go along with those 10 home runs. In the three-hole, junior pitcher/ first baseman Jill Roye is hitting .520 with six home runs and 37 RBIs.
SAU leads the Great American Conference in 10 offensive categories including batting average (.362), runs (194), home runs (43), RBIs (180) and slugging percentage (.659). They aren’t wildly free swingers, either. They boast the best plate discipline in the conference with a GAC best 97 walks and .469 on-base percentage. Those numbers place SAU among the top 10 in DII.
Behind solid pitching from the likes of Victoria Taylor and Kaylee Garner, who are a combined 17-0, the Muleriders are winning games in dominating fashion. Half of their wins have come via run-rule victories. They've outscored their opponents 194-69.
Their play hasn’t gone unnoticed. SAU sits in the No. 2 spot in Division II, the highest ranking in program history.
"It is a pretty surreal feeling knowing that we are the second-ranked team in the nation," Dow said. "Especially when I think about my freshman year when no one knew who Southern Arkansas was. There is both confidence and pressure present. It is amazing to see all of out hard work be acknowledged, but then again having this ranking also puts a target on our backs. We are thankful for our rankings, but we aren't going to settle and let this go to our heads."
None of their 18 wins has been as special than Game 2 of a February 25th doubleheader against East Central. That 10-0 victory was also Anderson’s 400th.
SAU has the experience that could help the Muleriders to a long run in the postseason. They have been there before, all the way to the DII Festival in Denver last year.
For Dow and the others, it’s not about home runs, rankings or milestone victories. It’s about getting back to the championships.
"Last year was an amazing experience, and it's one I hope we get to experience again this year," Dow said. "It has set the expectations very high from both the spectators and from ourselves. All of the returners from last year want another shot at a national title. This year we have our eyes set on getting to the [national championships] again, but we are taking it one series at a time and getting better in every aspect of the game each week."