Zack Saunders just finished his seventh season as the head coach of the Southwestern Oklahoma State University Baseball team, with a record of 24-24.
A two-time Great American Conference Coach of the Year, Saunders led the Bulldog Baseball team to new heights in 2016. SWOSU claimed the 2016 GAC Regular Season Championship, the program’s first conference championship of the NCAA era, and the Bulldogs were selected to the NCAA Central Regional Championship for the first program’s first NCAA postseason berth. SWOSU finished the 2016 season with a record of 34-17, which also established a new school record for wins in the NCAA era.
Saunders, who earned his 100th victory at SWOSU on April 24, 2015 against Northwestern Oklahoma State, has led the Bulldogs to two 30-win seasons and his teams have posted a winning record and advanced to the GAC Tournament four times. He has tutored 24 players who have earned All-Great American Conference status – including a record eight players in 2016 – and four players who have earned all-region status. Additionally, Saunders has mentored two CoSIDA Academic All-Americans, one Central Region Gold Glove winner and one Major League Baseball draft pick.
The 2016 season saw SWOSU win the program’s first conference championship since 1992 as the Bulldogs won the Great American Conference regular season crown with a 22-8 league record. SWOSU was then selected to the NCAA Central Regional, where they went 1-2 and earned the programs first-ever NCAA postseason victory with a 6-3 win over No. 20-ranked Minnesota-Duluth.
At the conclusion of the season, the Bulldogs earned several postseason accolades, including Saunders being named the GAC Coach of the Year for the second time in his career. SWOSU had a record four players named First Team All-GAC in pitcher Jon Chidester, outfielders Korbin Polston and Jacob Spring and designated hitter Zach Barton, while Gunnar Cook and Tanner Dearman were second team selections and Quintin Dougherty and CJ Faddis earned honorable mention. Chidester, Spring and Polston all earned All-Central Region honors, while Polston and Barton were both Second Team CoSIDA Academic All-Americans.
The Bulldogs suffered their first non-winning season under Saunders as they struggled to a 19-27 record, including a 12-18 mark in GAC play in 2015. Despite missing the conference tournament for the first time, the Bulldogs had two players earn all-conference recognition, including starting pitcher Jon Chidester, a first team selection after becoming the first player in league history to be named Pitcher of the Week three times in one season.
His 2014 squad finished with a winning record at 25-23 and entered the GAC Tournament as the fifth seed after tying with Harding for fourth place in the standings. SWOSU was led by senior pitcher Jonathan Johnson, who ranked among the national leaders in complete games and earned second team All-GAC honors after finishing 6-6 with a 2.53 ERA. Johnson was joined on the second team by shortstop Dalton Daniels, who was also named to the Rawlings/American Baseball Coaches Association (ABCA) Central Region Gold Glove team.
The 2013 edition of SWOSU baseball had one of the most successful seasons for the program as an NCAA Division II member. The Bulldogs completed the season with a 31-16 record and placed second in the Great American Conference with a 21-9 conference record. Saunders was rewarded by being named the 2013 GAC Coach of the Year – the first such award of his career – as SWOSU remained in contention for their first NCAA Division II postseason bid until the final week of the season.
Starting pitcher Shane Martin and utility player Kevin Cantrell earned All-GAC first team honors at the conclusion of the 2013 season while Calyn Young was a second team choice. Martin’s accolades continued as he was selected to three All-Central Region teams before being a ninth-round selection of the Philadelphia Phillies in the 2013 MLB Draft.
Saunders first squad at SWOSU finished 27-19 (14-10 GAC) and claimed third place in the Great American Conference standings. The Bulldogs had four players earn All-GAC honors, led by first teamers Andre Yates (second base) and Jeremy Soliday (third base).
SWOSU handed the controls of the Bulldog baseball program to Saunders prior to the 2012 season, after he spent six seasons as the Bulldogs lead assistant.
In 2011, Saunders helped the Bulldogs to a 33-18 record and an appearance in the Lone Star Conference post-season tournament. SWOSU achieved several firsts during the year, including a ranking in the NCAA Division II National Top 25 poll, a victory in the LSC Tournament and defeating top-ranked Emporia State.
Saunders played collegiately at Kansas State University where he was a two-year starter before joining former SWOSU coach Charles Teasley’s staff in 2005. A 1999 graduate of Muskogee High School, Saunders began playing collegiately at Connors State and was a member of two nationally-ranked junior college teams with the Cowboys.
A native of Muskogee, Okla., Saunders earned his bachelor's degree in Social Science from Kansas State University in 2004 before completing a master's degree in Kinesiology from SWOSU in 2008. He and his wife Elissa (Clayton) reside in Weatherford with their son Isaiah and daughter Olivia.