The tournament features the league’s top eight teams for the first time in 30 years, switching from a six-team format, and begins with a four-team first round Tuesday between the bottom four seeds. The winners of the first two games will join the top four Southland teams in a traditional six-team, double-elimination bracket for the remainder of the tourney. No. 6 Abilene Christian WildcatsAbilene Christian makes its Southland Conference Tournament debut in its first season eligible since transitioning to Division I. The Wildcats produced an All-Conference First Team selection in senior Hannah Null, who has tossed 213.1 innings so far this season and striking out 187 batters in 39 appearances. They also are one of two teams this year to have a four-time all-conference selection as senior Peyton Hedrick was voted onto the second team at shortstop. Designated Player Alyson Bishoff and outfielder Donelle Johnson also earned third team selections. They will challenge No. 7 Northwestern State at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday. Games 1-11 will be streamed live on the Southland Digital Network with Richard Dow, Bruce Merchant and Tony Taglavore sharing play-by-play duties. The games will be available via southland.org/live and Southland Conference apps. Coverage shifts to the ESPN family of networks for the championship round. Game 12 will be televised nationwide on ESPNU with Lincoln Rose and former Southeastern Louisiana pitcher Kati Morse on the call. If Game 13 is necessary, action will move to ESPN3. In both cases, streaming coverage is available from WatchESPN.com and ESPN apps. No. 4 Southeastern Louisiana LionsSoutheastern Louisiana returns to the tournament for the first time since 2015 on a record year for the program, setting its season-season school record for overall and conference victories. The Lions lead the nation in stolen bases and broke their program’s record for runs (294), triples (18) and hits (50). SLU picked up a second-team All-Conference selection in Kinsey Nichols and third-team honorees in third baseman Mahalia Gibson, outfielder Ali McCoy and pitcher Rachel Hayes. They take on the winner of No. 5 Central Arkansas and No. 8 Sam Houston State on Tuesday at 4 p.m. Nicholls claimed its first regular-season title since 1996 and enter the tournament as the top-seeded team. The Colonels are coming off a tournament final appearance in 2017. After missing out on the postseason last year, Stephen F. Austin won the Southland West Division title and the No. 2 seed. No. 1 Nicholls ColonelsNicholls last lifted the Southland Tournament trophy in 1997, picking up a consecutive championship after winning the title in 1996 to complete the regular season and tournament sweep. The Colonels are backed by Pitcher of the Year Megan Landry, Freshman of the Year Jewel Lara and Newcomer of the Year Kali Clement. Coach of the Year Angel Santiago also saw his squad garner three additional first-team all-conference selections, another second-team member and a third-team honoree. The team led the league in batting average (.323) and earned run average (2.23) and will start its 2018 tournament campaign Wednesday at 11 a.m. Back-to-back tournament champion McNeese enters this week as the No. 3 seed and searches for the tournament three-peat. The Cowgirls would become the first Southland school to win three consecutive tournament championships. No. 8 Sam Houston State BearkatsSam Houston State needed a sweep in the last series of the regular season to clinch the final spot in the 2018 Southland Conference Tournament. Junior pitcher Lindsey McLeod paces the team, earning an All-Conference Second Team nod for her work in the circle this season. The junior from Austin, Texas, led the league in strikeouts with 201, ringing up at least 10 strikeouts seven times this year. Sam Houston enters the tournament with the highest fielding percentage in league games (.975). No. 2 Stephen F. Austin LadyjacksStephen F. Austin will enjoy a day one break in the tournament before its first pitch Wednesday at 1 p.m. The Ladyjacks are led by First-Team All-Conference selection Amber Landry, a senior third baseman from Ponchatoula, La., and second-team members Taylor Fraccastoro and pitcher Makayla Sikes. Landry owned a .320 batting average with 54 hits and a team-high 45 RBIs. Fraccastoro is the top slugger for SFA with a .592 average while Sikes has the third-best ERA in the conference at 2.11. No. 5 Central Arkansas BearsCentral Arkansas opens the tournament with an 11 a.m. elimination contest against Sam Houston State. The Bears have three all-conference members in second baseman Libby Morris, first baseman Kaylyn Shepherd and right fielder Morgan Felts. Each of them earned third team honors. UCA heads into Lake Charles following a series win over Northwestern State this past weekend. The team is searching for its first tournament championship since 2015. TOURNAMENT CENTRALLAKE CHARLES, La. – The 2018 Southland Conference Softball Tournament starts Tuesday at Joe Miller Field in Lake Charles, La., hosted by McNeese. No. 3 McNeeses CowgirlsAlthough falling short of its third-straight regular season championship, McNeese still had another strong season in the diamond. Erika Piancastelli won her fourth Player of the Year award along with her fourth Hitter of the Year award. The Cowgirls also garnered three other first-team all-conference selections. The team ranks first in Southland action for slugging percentage (.523), on base percentage (.427), runs scored (167) and home runs (28). They will await the winner between No. 6 Abilene Christian and No. 7 Northwestern State for a 6:30 p.m. game tomorrow. No. 7 Northwestern State Lady DemonsNorthwestern State first have to get through the opening round elimination game against No. 6 Abilene Christian to continue its hopes of winning its first tournament title since doing so in 2013 and 2014. The Lady Demons took two of three when the two teams met earlier this year. Sophomore catcher Emma Hawthorne goes into Tuesday’s game coming off a career-high six RBIs in Saturday’s regular season finale against Central Arkansas. The Lady Demons earned All-Conference selections in first team second baseman Cayla Jones, second team outfielder Sidney Salmans and third team utility player Kaitlyn St. Clair.