Southern Arkansas was founded in 1909 as the Third District Agricultural School and fielded its first baseball team as early as 1911. After sporadic success of the first 60 years of the programs, Coach Steve Goodheart was named head coach in 1981 and quickly took SAU to new heights. Not only did he lead SAU to nine Arkansas Intercollegiate Conference championships, he oversaw SAU’s transition from NAIA to NCAA Division II ranks. SAU has won twenty-one conference regular seasons championships (17 – AIC, 2 – GSC, 2 - GAC), six conference tournament championships (3 - GSC, 3 - GAC), made 3 NAIA world series appearances including a 3rd-place finish in 1987, and 9 NCAA Division II Regional appearances.
For many years SAU fielded a two-year baseball program before joining the Arkansas Intercollegiate Conference. The now defunct Arkansas Intercollegiate Conference featured NAIA schools in Arkansas from the 1940s through 1995. Conference members included Arkansas Tech University, Harding University, Henderson State University, Hendrix College, Lyon College (Arkansas College), Ouachita Baptist University, Southern Arkansas University (Southern State College), University of Arkansas at Monticello (Arkansas A&M), University of Central Arkansas, and the University of the Ozarks (College of the Ozarks). At least three Southern Arkansas University Sports Hall of Fame members severed as coach of the Mulerider baseball team in this era. Coach Sam Bailey coached the Muleriders to a 41-36 record from 1951-1956. Dr. Delwin T. Ross was the coach from 1957-1967.
Monroe Ingram also coached baseball and basketball at SAU. Ingram produced a record of 107-86 and won AIC Championships in 1974, 1975, and 1977. Following Ingram as Head Coach of the Muleriders was Dr. Jack Harrington. Harrington was the coach of the ‘Riders from 1977-1980 and finished his career with a record of 56-53. All three of Dr. Harrington’s teams finished in 2nd place in the AIC with 9-5 conference records. Following Dr. Harrington, one of Coach Ingram’s former players and assistant coaches was named Head Coach after the 1980 season and proceeded to take SAU’s baseball program to new heights.
Athletic Director W.T. Watson hired Southern Arkansas graduate and University of Arizona Graduate Assistant Steve Goodheart as Head Coach in 1980. Goodheart was a four-year letter winner at SAU from 1973-1976 and was a student assistant at SAU in 1977. SAU won AIC Championships in 1974 and 1975 while Goodheart was a player, as well as 1977 when Goodheart was a student assistant. Following the 1977 season Goodheart spent one year as the head coach of Camden, Arkansas' Camden Fairview High School. In 1979 Goodheart went to the University of Arizona where he served as a Graduate Assistant. The 1980 Arizona Wildcats baseball team won the College World Series.
Goodheart retired in 2003 as the winningest coach in school history. With a record of 764 wins, 406 losses, and 5 ties, good for a .647 winning percentage, Goodheart is the second winningest baseball coach in Arkansas history behind former University of Arkansas coach Norm DeBriyn’s 1,161 wins.
Goodheart won 19 championships during his career at SAU. As head coach, his Muleriders were AIC champions in 1983, 1986, 1987, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1994, and 1995. Three of his SAU teams made appearances in the NAIA World Series (1983, 1987, 1991). The 1987 team finished third in the World Series with a record of 46-7. Goodheart’s teams also won six district titles and 2 area titles. According to a press release when Goodheart was elected into the Southern Arkansas University Sports Hall of Fame:
“More than 50 of Goodheart’s former players have signed to play professional baseball. He has coached 54 first-team All-AIC players, 26 first-team NAIA District 17 players, five NAIA All-Area players, 12 NAIA Southwest Region selections, 17 NAIA All-Americans, one NAIA Academic All-American, two Cliff Shaw Scholar-Athlete Award winners, 33 All-Gulf South Conference choices, 10 NCAA All-South Central Region selections, and two NCAA All-Americans.”
Perhaps the most important accomplishment of Goodheart’s career was overseeing SAU’s transition from NAIA to the NCAA ranks. Not only were Goodheart’s teams able to make the jump, the teams proceeded to win at an even higher level.
Former Mulerider Allen Gum was named head coach prior to the 2006 season. The next five years saw SAU reach a new level of success that included five NCAA Division II Regional Appearances, 24 weeks ranked number 1,a first round draft pick, and the only two Gulf South Conference titles. Gum left SAU to become the Head Coach at the University of Central Arkansas following the 2010 season. Gum finished his SAU career with a record of 226 wins and 68 loses. His career .769 winning percentage is second best in Gulf South Conference history and the best in SAU baseball history.
Despite consistently finishing near the top of the Western Division, 2006 was a banner year for the SAU baseball program. Finishing the season 40-18 SAU won the Gulf South Conference tournament for the first time. The 2006 season began a stretch of five consecutive seasons with 40+ wins. In 2008, the Muleriders reached the number 1 ranking for the first time in school history and made it to the semi-finals of the South Central regional.
The 2009 season was one of the most successful season in school history. The only team to break the 50 win plateau, SAU finished the season 52-11, won their first GSC Western Division Title, won the Gulf South Conference Tournament for a second time, and hosted the NCAA South Regional for the first time in school history. The 2010 squad entered the season with similar expectations. The Muleriders proceeded to repeat as GSC Western Division winners before losing in the Gulf Southern Conference Tournament title game to Valdosta State. SAU made it to the NCAA South Regional finals before losing to Regional host University of Tampa. SAU finished 2010 with a record of 47-10 and saw four Muleriders drafted in the MLB draft, while two more signed free agent professional contracts.
Steve Browning's relationship with SAU baseball began in 1998 when he played for former coach Steve Goodheart. Following several years as a student/graduate assistant and assistant coach, Athletic Director Jay Adcox named Browning the head coach of the Muleriders in June 2010.
Mulerider baseball has proven to be in good hands under Coach Browning. In 2011, SAU's last season in the Gulf South Conference, the Muleriders finished 36-16, winning the GSC tournament and making the NCAA South Regional. In their first year competing in the newly formed Great American Conference, SAU continued their championship tradition. Finishing the season with a record of 37-17, SAU won both the regular season and tournament championship and made their fifth consecutive NCAA Regional appearance.
Due to the success of his baseball program, as well as his relationship with the university, Dr. David Rankin named Coach Browning as Athletic Director on July 1, 2012.
Browning won his 100th game as the Mulerider's Head Coach with a 12-3 victory over East Central University on April 6, 2013.
The Muleriders won their 3rd consecutive (2nd in the GAC) conference tournament title and their 4th in five years with an 11-2 victory over UAM on May 7, 2013.
Walker Stadium at Goodheart Field is a baseball stadium located in Magnolia, Arkansas. It is the home field for the Southern Arkansas Mulerider baseball team. Walker Stadium at Goodheart Field consists of grandstand seating built into a hill behind homeplate as well as grass seating down the lines. Due to the prolonged success of Mulerider Baseball, SAU opened a completely remodeled facility that included new coaches’ offices, locker rooms, concession stands, restrooms and press box during the 2011 baseball season. The capacity is approximately 1000. Field dimensions are 350-410-340. The field is named for former coach Steve Goodheart. The stadium is named after the Willard and Pat Walker Charitable Foundation.
In 2010 Southern Arkansas moved in the Top Ten in NCAA Division II average home attendance with 4,890 fans attending the 14 games. The average attendance of 349 fans was good for 8th in the NCAA.Records are for coaches from 1950 through present
*Through May 6, 2015.
*Final Rankings are from Collegiate Baseball Division II Final Polls (1988–2013)
Conference affiliations:1950–1995, Arkansas Intercollegiate Conference
1995–2011, Gulf South Conference
2011–present, Great American Conference
Conference affiliations:1995–2011, Gulf South Conference
2011–present, Great American Conference
SAU began participating in NCAA Division II Baseball in 1996.
The format of the tournament has changed through the years.