BRENTWOOD, Tenn. – UT Martin was picked to take the West Division, while Jacksonville State has been selected to win the East Division in the 2013 Ohio Valley Conference softball race as voted on by the league’s head coaches and sports information directors.
In the West Division, Eastern Illinois earned six first-place nods and 111 points for a second-place predicted finish. Murray State is predicted to finish four with three-first place votes and 94 points. SIUE is picked to finish fifth with 71 points while Southeast Missouri garnered the remaining first-place vote and 61 points to be selected fifth. Austin Peay rounds out the West with 30 points.
Tennessee Tech is picked to finish second in the East after earning two first-place votes and 103 points. Eastern Kentucky picked up the remaining first-place vote and 99 points to be selected to finish third. Rounding out the East are Morehead State (60), OVC newcomer Belmont (54) and Tennessee State (46).
“It is an honor to be pick first, but we still have to win when we go out on the field,” UT Martin head coach Donley Canary said.
UT Martin went 23-6 in the OVC and 39-22 overall en route to its second regular-season title in the last three years. The Skyhawks also won their second OVC Tournament title, marking the 13th time in league history the same team has won the regular-season and tournament titles in the same year.
Canary enters his 12th season as the head coach of the UT Martin softball program and will have six starters and three pitchers returning from last year’s championship squad.
Among the top returnees is the 2012 OVC Player of the Year Leah Taylor. The senior outfielder led the league in hits (77), runs scored (61), triples (10) and stolen bases (37) while also ranking among conference leaders with a .385 batting average and a .461 on-base percentage.
Sophomore first baseman/catcher Lauren Smith will also becoming back this season. Smith, who was named to the All-OVC second team as well as the All-Newcomer squad, is the team’s top returning run producer as she drove in 35 runs last year. She hit .274 last year with 37 hits, four doubles and a team-best nine home runs.
“We have key parts missing from our championship team from a year ago, and we will use the early part of the spring on filling those voids,” Canary said.
Jacksonville State posted a 28-29 overall mark while going 19-11 in the OVC to finish in a tie for third place last year. Jana McGinnis is in her 20th season at the helm of the Gamecocks and will have a pair of All-Conference honorees returning from last year.
Seven different OVC teams have won a regular-season championship with Tennessee Tech and Southeast Missouri leading the way with five titles each. The regular-season champion has gone on to win the league tournament title 13 times since the inception of the championship in 1994. UT Martin won both the regular-season and tournament crowns last year.
The 2013 softball campaign gets under way on Feb. 7 with OVC play starting March 16. For the first time in league history, the 2013 OVC Softball Championship will feature the top eight teams. The three-day event will take place on May 8-11 on the campus of the top seed.
2013 OVC SOFTBALL PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH
(as voted on by the league’s head softball coaches and sports information directors)
1. Jacksonville State (21 first-place vote) 130
2. Tennessee Tech (Two first-place votes) 103
3. Eastern Kentucky (One first-place vote) 99
4. Morehead State 60
5. Belmont 54
6. Tennessee State 46
1. UT Martin (14 first-place votes) 119
2. Eastern Illinois (Six first-place votes) 111
3. Murray State (Three first-place votes) 94
4. SIUE 71
5. Southeast Missouri (One first-place vote) 61
6. Austin Peay 30
(*Schools were not allowed to rank their own team. 6 points awarded for a first-place vote, five for second, etc.)