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Tuesday, February 02, 2010 | Baseball
Coaches Select Wichita State as Missouri Valley Conference Baseball Favorite
ST. LOUIS - Wichita State, which returns a dominating young pitching staff and solid depth from last year's Missouri Va lley Conference Tournament championship squad, has been tabbed as the league favorite in the annual coaches' preseason poll, receiving seven of eight first-place votes.
The Shockers tallied 57 points and were a close favorite over second-place pick and 2009 regular-season champion Missouri State (52 points). Creighton, who secured the remaining first-place vote and 50 points overall, was picked to finish in the third position.
Illinois State was selected in fourth place with 38 points, followed by Southern Illinois in fifth (33) and Indiana State in the sixth slot (29). Evansville (16) and Bradley (13) round out the final two positions in the poll.
The Valley demonstrates a depth of talent and experience returning to the league this season. The coaches have voted 14 players representing seven teams to the 2010 preseason all-MVC baseball squad.
Missouri State and Creighton each land three players on the preseason all-Valley team. The Bears are noted by 2009 Freshman of the Year Kevin Medrano (2B), Aaron Meade (LHP) and Aaron Conway (OF), while Elliot Soto (SS), Robbie Knight (OF) and Bobby Lackovic (RHP) represent the Jays on the preseason squad.
Wichita State, Southern Illinois and Evansville earned two selections apiece. The Shockers are represented by Clint McKeever (1B) and Jordan Cooper (RHP), while Tyler Bullock (DH) and Bryant George (RHP) are the Salukis' selections. Cody Fick (3B) and Tom Heithoff (UT) represent the Purple Aces on the preseason squad.
Indiana State is represented by senior Ryan Strausborger (OF), while Bradley's Kevin Sullivan (C) fills the final spot on the preseason all-Valley squad.
After winning its league-leading 17th MVC tournament title and advancing to their eighth-straight NCAA Tournament last season, Wichita State returns seven starters and 19 letterwinners in 2010. The pitching staff returns its top three starters, including honorable mention All-American and second team all-MVC selection Tim Kelley (5-4, 2.86 ERA), and sophomores Jordan Cooper (8-6, 2.78 ERA) and Charlie Lowell (6-2, 2.95 ERA). Senior Clint McKeever, the top returning offensive threat, returns to the Shocker lineup at first base, and will be joined on the infield by senior Will Baez (2B) and sophomore Tyler Grimes (SS). Two starters return in the outfield in senior Ryan Jones and junior Mitch Caster, while 2009 MVC Newcomer of the Year Travis Bennett, a transfer from UNI, will also look to make an impact in the outfield.
Missouri State welcomes back five starters and eight pitchers from its 2009 MVC regular-season championship squad, but will look to fill the holes left by 2009 MVC Player and Pitcher of the Year, Brayden Drake and Buddy Baumann, respectively. Junior Aaron Meade (9-2, 3.39 ERA) will be the Bears ace in 2010, and will be complemented by senior Pat Doyle (4-2, 4.12 ERA) in the starting rotation. The Bruins will be backed up on the infield by junior Tyler Ryun (1B), 2009 MVC Freshman of the Year Kevin Medrano (2B) and sophomore Travis McComack (SS). Junior Aaron Conway is the Bears' only returning starter in the outfield.
Creighton brings back six starters and a barrage of talented veteran pitchers from last year's squad, including juniors Greg Hellhake (5-3, 4.73 ERA) and Jonas Dufek (4-7, 4.33 ERA). The bullpen will house senior Bobby Lackovic (6-1, 3.55 ERA), who led the Jays with six wins in 2009. CU's solid infield experience welcomes back two starters from last season's team that led the NCAA in fielding percentage (.984), in first team all-MVC selection Elliot Soto (SS) and senior Jimmy Swift (3B). Junior all-Valley centerfielder Robbie Knight and senior T.J. Roemmich will anchor the Jays' outfield.
Illinois State, under the direction of first year head coach Mark Kingston, inherits an experienced group of returning players including seven starters and its top three pitchers from a season ago. Senior Ryan Copeland (4-5, 3.63 ERA), junior Corey Maines (6-5, 4.26 ERA) and sophomore Ryan Camp (6-3, 4.73 ERA) will handle the weekend rotation, while senior Jim Sajewich returns as the top closer. Junior Ryan Court (3B) and senior Evan Kohli (1B) return to the Redbird infield, while sophomore Kevin Tokarski is back in the Illinois State lineup after missing last season with an injury. Senior Anthony Ruffolo and junior Tyler McNeely, who led the team in doubles and home runs last season, also return to the Redbirds' outfield.
Southern Illinois returns seven starters and one starting pitcher from its 2009 squad. On the offensive front, senior Tyler Bullock (DH) returns to the Salukis after leading the team in home runs (11) in 2009, while sophomore Chris Serritella (1B) also returns to the SIU lineup after hitting .325 with 52 hits and 24 RBI in 2009. SIU welcomes back all three starting outfielders, including senior Aaron Roberts, junior Chris Murphy and sophomore Jordan Sivertsen. On the mound, senior left-hander Jimmy Cornell is the lone returning starter, after finishing 2-2 with a 3.26 ERA a year ago. Senior closer Bryant George, who holds the Saluki school record with 23 saves, returns as SIU's top reliever.
Indiana State welcomes first year head coach Rick Heller, who served his previous 10 seasons as the skipper at UNI, to take the reigns of a Sycamore team that won 33 games a season ago. Indiana State returns five starters and its top two pitchers in first team all-MVC selection Joe Rodriguez (7-3, 5.29 ERA) and junior Jacob Petricka (7-3, 4.76 ERA). The Sycamores will look to fill the offensive void left behind by Brady Shoemaker, Nick Ciolli and Bronco Lafrenz, who were all lost to the draft following last season. Two-time all-Valley selection Ryan Strausborger (UT) returns as the Sycamores leader in runs (57) and hits (81), while seniors Luke Fieser (3B) and Tyler Graham (C) will also add to the offensive production.
Evansville returns an experienced group of players including six position starters and six pitchers from last year's squad that won 25 games, the second-most under a first-year head coach in program history. Junior Cody Fick (3B), who led the team in runs (44), hits (70), doubles (19), home runs (9) and RBI (46), returns to the Purple Aces lineup as the top offensive threat. Seniors Tom Heithoff (1B/RHP) and Andy Pascoe (DH) will also be expected to help lead the charge in 2010. Juniors Greg Wallace (57 hits, 8 HR, 30 RBI) and Nate Smith and senior Alex Acheson will anchor a talented UE outfield. On the mound, Heithoff is expected to move from the bullpen into the starting rotation to help anchor a young, but talented UE pitching staff.
Bradley welcomes back three position starters and five pitchers from its 2009 team, led by senior Matt Fritz, the Braves top returning leader in runs (33), hits (40), doubles (98) and stolen bases (24). Senior Kevin Sullivan (.277, 15 RBI) will return as Bradley's stopper, while sophomore Joe Bircher comes back to the Braves lineup after leading the team with a 4-2 record and 3.39 ERA last season.
All eight Missouri Valley Conference baseball teams begin action the last week of February, with tournament play and non-conference games, while league battles will heat up starting Friday, March 26.