MVP

HOT SPRINGS – Southern Arkansas took an early lead and never looked back on Tuesday afternoon, en route to a 17-9 win over Henderson State.

The victory was the program's sixth Great American Conference title and guaranteed an automatic bid to the NCAA postseason.

The championship came behind Tournament MVP Chris Lyles' 3-for-5 day which included a two-run blast that jump-started scoring in the second inning, as well as a three-run laser by fellow Wake Village, TX product Chris Sutton in the same frame.

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The Muleriders (41-11), who were back in the tournament title game for the first time since 2018, felt right at home on Championship Tuesday as the squad's offensive output resulted in the program's 10th postseason game with 10+ runs and matched the single game postseason record which has been done two other times, including in Saturday's tournament opener.

The victory improves SAU's record in GAC Tournament title games to 6-0.

Lyles' homer, his fifth of the year, towered out to left field on the second pitch he saw and, in the process, backed the starting effort of junior Jack Liddell, who earned his fourth win of the season after pitching around three hits, one walk and four runs across six big innings. He tossed hitless frames in the first, second, fifth and sixth innings.

Sutton's second trip to the plate was fruitful as a 1-0 pitch was deposited in nearly the same spot as his East Texas counterpart to put the Muleriders up 5-0.

After a solo home run from the Reddies in the third, Lyles singled up the middle to plate junior Ty Manning from third who reached after drawing a walk to cap an 11-pitch at-bat. He then proceeded to swipe bags #24 and #25 of his season, to momentarily put SAU back up by five runs. However, the Muleriders would scratch across four more runs in the inning without the benefit of a hit as two HBP, a pair of fielder's choice and a walk helped build a 10-1 lead through three innings of play.

Three HSU runs in the fourth were quickly grabbed back by the Muleriders. Senior Tucker Burton parked a 3-1 pitch onto the elevated railroad tracks behind right field for a two-run blast in the fourth and then walked in a run in the fifth as the lead grew to 13-4. Four more runs in the sixth ended the scoring showcase by the Muleriders on Tuesday and put the squad well on its way to the win column.

Junior Conner Allen exited the park in left field with a solo blast to increase the lead to 10 runs, junior Riley Orr raced home on a wild pitch, freshman Jakob Machuca singled in Sutton and Manning plated junior Brett McGee on a sacrifice fly as the Muleriders led 17-4 through six.

Sophomore Chance Bolter and Isaiah Haynes, both of which saw tournament action prior to Tuesday's appearances, combined to work the final three innings in relief of Liddell. Bolter pitched the seventh and eighth innings working through 13 HSU batters, while Haynes' 18th and final pitch in the ninth resulted in the right hander retiring the final Reddie hitter on a 1-3 which led to the ensuing celebratory pile up.

Lyles' three-hit day included the homer as well as a double and he finished with three RBI and two runs scored. Sutton recorded a pair of hits, three RBI and scored twice, while Allen collected two hits, an RBI and along with Orr was plated three times. SAU matched a season-high in walks drawn with 13 as McGee walked three times and four other players walked twice.

Starting pitcher Jeremy Adorno, catcher Brett McGee and shortstop Riley Orr joined Lyles on the GAC All-Tournament team.

Southern Arkansas now awaits its postseason seeding which will be announced on NCAA.com at 9 p.m. Sunday.

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