Taylor Hughes | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Taylor Hughes

Photo courtesy Alcorn State University

Photo courtesy Alcorn State University

There wasn't a better softball team in the Southwestern Athletic Conference's regular season last year than Alcorn State University. The Braves finished with a 13-5 conference record, which put them a game ahead of Texas Southern University for the best record in the conference. They also won the SWAC East over Alabama State University by three games.

Alcorn State ruled most of the regular season in conference play but then picked a terrible time to go on a losing streak. The Braves lost their final five conference matchups, including both games in the SWAC Tournament, and seven of their final eight bouts of the season.

Texas Southern ended up knocking Alabama State off and winning the conference tournament in 2017. It should come as no surprise that Texas Southern received is the favorite to finish first in the West again, with 91 points. Alabama State ended up with 82 points as the top pick for first in the East.

The predicted finishing order is based on votes from conference coaches and sports information directors.

Voters picked Alcorn State to finish second in the East with 62 points and third in points among the rest of the conference teams. Texas Southern received 15 first-place votes, Alabama State received seven first-place votes, and the Braves earned six first-place votes. No other team in the SWAC received more than four first-place votes.

Don't expect the Braves to give up their crown easily, though, since Alcorn State boasts the 2018 SWAC Preseason Player of the Year, first-baseman Taylor Hughes.

Hughes was sensational last season, as she finished with a .404 batting average with 59 hits, 38 runs, 37 RBI, 17 doubles, two homeruns and one triple with a team-high .479 on-base percentage. The Phoenix, Ariz., native started in all 47 games and led the team in batting average, hits, runs and doubles. She finished second on the team in RBIs and tied for second in homeruns. She finished the season with 18 multiple-hit games, including a season-high four hits against Kentucky State University.

Hughes led the SWAC in doubles and on-base percentage, and she was second in batting average, tied for third in hits and tied for fourth in RBIs. Her efforts earned her First-Team SWAC, SWAC All-Tournament Team, SWAC Hitter of the Year and SWAC Player of the Year honors in 2017.

Hughes earned Preseason First-Team All-SWAC honors to go along with her Preseason Player of the Year title. She is the only Braves player to earn First Team honors, but third baseman and Gulfport, Miss., native Victoria Tyler, outfielder Mariah Ortiz and pitcher Robin Harrison earned Preseason Second-Team All SWAC.

Alcorn State opens the 2018 season on Tuesday, Feb. 13, in a double-header at the University of Southern Mississippi. The Braves' home opener will be on Saturday, Feb. 17, against Rust College in another double-header. Alcorn State will begin conference play on Friday, March 13, against Texas Southern.

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