Photo Courtesy: UCA Media Relations
CONWAY, Ark. (UCA) - The Southland Conference announced its All-conference teams on Tuesday, and the Central Arkansas Bears were well represented. Senior right-hander Kelsie Armstrong was named the conference's Pitcher of the Year while second baseman Melissa Bryant, catcher Melanie Bryant, and utility player Sarah Bigej were named All-Southland Conference. Central Arkansas was fourth in the SLC with four players honored.
Hot Springs native Armstrong continued to make her case as one of the best pitchers in conference history, becoming the first Central Arkansas pitcher to earn Pitcher of the Year honors. Armstrong, who was dominant in non-conference play, continued that dominance in SLC play, leading the SLC with 176 strikeouts, including 47 looking. She recorded wins in 13 of her 20 conference starts, throwing 138 innings and holding opposing hitters to a .221 average en route to a 1.88 ERA. On the whole season, Armstrong went 28-12, completing 37 of the 40 games that she started for the Bears. In 207 innings pitched, Armstrong recorded a conference-leading 344 batters, which were more than twice as many as any other pitcher. 2013 was the fourth consecutive season that Armstrong set a new Central Arkansas record for strikeouts in a season and the third consecutive year that she has led the conference. In back-to-back starts, she recorded a school record 18 strikeouts, the third highest total in conference history and on February 26th threw a six inning no-hitter against Grambling State. Armstrong also eclipsed the 1,000 career strikeout mark this season, becoming the third pitcher in SLC history to reach the mark. Armstrong was also named All-SLC first team, marking the second time that she has received All-SLC honors.
Melissa Bryant, from Hernando, Mississippi, was named All-SLC for the second time in her career. The senior second baseman rode a monster season to All-SLC first team honors. She hit .379 on the season, driving in 24 runs and scoring 28 more. She hit three home runs and collected 16 doubles and a pair of triples while getting on base at a .439 clip and slugging .542. Her numbers were even more impressive in SLC play, where she hit .414 while blasting all three of her homers, 10 of her doubles, and one of her triples. She collected 12 of her 24 RBI in conference play and scored 17 of her 28 runs. Bryant slugged an amazing .655 in conference play and had an on-base percentage of .463.
Melanie Bryant, also hailing from Hernando, Mississippi, earned All-SLC honors for the fourth consecutive year. The senior catcher was named All-SLC second team after a season in which she hit .273 with a team-high nine home runs and 42 RBI. In SLC play, she hit .272, collecting three of her home runs and 22 RBI. Bryant slugged .481 and reached base at a .299 clip while also recording a fielding percentage of 1.000.
The final Bear to receive All-SLC honors is freshman Sarah Bigej. The utility player from Happy Valley, Oregon spent most of the non-conference schedule at designated player for Central Arkansas, but a season-ending injury to former All-SLC outfielder Stephanie Lasley forced Bigej into service as the everyday left fielder. Bigej started 27 games in left, 20 at designated player, and, just for good measure, three at second base. A member of the All-SLC third team, she hit .288 on the season, driving in 37 runs and scoring 34 more. Bigej exhibited a good mix of speed and power, collecting six hits and six doubles while also tallying a pair of triples and going a perfect 5-for-5 on stolen bases. In conference play, Bigej hit .284 with eight RBI and 15 runs scored.
Central Arkansas (36-18, 15-10 SLC) earned the number-four seed in this week's Southland Conference Tournament. The Bears will face off with fifth-seeded Lamar at 11:00 AM on Thursday. The Bears swept the season series 3-0 in Conway on April 27th and 28th. The winner of the game will move on to play top-seeded McNeese State at 4:00 on Thursday afternoon.