Monday, April 12, 2010 | Baseball
Baseball Weekly Notebook (Apr. 12)

Three For All
Following a three-game sweep at Creighton last weekend, Illinois State moved atop the league standings with a 5-1 start in Valley play.  The Redbirds claimed their first series win over Creighton in Omaha since 1986, and the first ever sweep over the Bluejays in program history.  The Jays enter this week at 3-6 in conference play.

In similar fashion, Bradley earned its first (and second and third) league victory after sweeping Missouri State last weekend at O'Brien Field.  The sweep over the Bears gave Bradley its first home Missouri Valley Conference sweep since April of 2007.  Missouri State, picked second in the coaches' preseason poll, sits at 1-5 in the league standings.  The Bears take a break from MVC action this week, hosting a pair of Big 12 foes in Kansas and Missouri.

Wichita State snapped Southern Illinois' season-best six-game winning streak, taking the first two games in the three-game series.  The Shockers sit at 7-2 in league play, while the Salukis are the third and final team above .500 in MVC action, entering this week's play at 5-4.

Evansville (3-3 MVC) and Indiana State (3-3 MVC) took a break from league play last weekend.  The Sycamores will return to Valley action this week, hosting Wichita State, while the Purple Aces will enjoy another week away from conference play, playing home-and-home mid-week games against Murray State and welcoming Arkansas State this weekend.

Brooms A'Plenty
Bradley's sweep over visiting Missouri State last weekend at O'Brien Field marked the Braves first home Missouri Valley Conference sweep since April 27-29, 2007, when the Braves took a three-game set from Illinois State. 

On top of that, behind sophomore left-hander Joe Bircher's 8.0-inning, 10 strikeout performance, the Braves blanked the Bears, 7-0, on Friday night, tallying their first shutout victory since May 1, 2009. 

Another Bluejay Blunder
Illinois State clinched its first series win over Creighton in Omaha since 1986, and the first ever sweep over the Bluejays in program history last weekend.  The Redbirds performed the sweep in fashion, holding the Jays to a season-low tying four hits on Saturday, before setting a new low on Sunday with just three.

Catch Him If You Can
Illinois State second baseman Kevin Tokarski stole two bases over the weekend to move past Matt Bolt (51) into second place on the all-time steals list at Illinois State with 52 career stolen bases.  Tokarski set Illinois State's single season mark with 32 steals as a freshman in 2008 and is 19-of-22 on the base paths this season.

Sycamores Have Citadel's Number
Indiana State won its second straight road series overall The Citadel, taking two out of three games this past weekend and three out of four to open the 2009 campaign.  The Sycamores must have The Citadel's number, as these are the only two home series that the Bulldogs have lost over the last two years.

Not Another W for Wojciechowski
Indiana State stood strong against one of the nation's top pitchers on Friday, in Asher Wojciechowski of The Citadel.  Wojciechowski entered the weekend with seven wins in seven starts and as the national leader in strikeouts, but the Sycamores hung the first no decision of the season on Wojciechowski's record, with only a ninth-inning rally from the Bulldogs keeping The Citadel's top pitcher without a loss.

Bears vs. Big 12
Missouri State plays a pair of Big 12 opponents this week and has fared the best against Big 12 schools of any MVC team the last two seasons.  The MVC is 10-19 (4-5 in 2010) versus the Big 12 since the beginning of the 2009 season, and the Bears are 4-4 in those contests, holding the best winning percentage and matching Creighton for the most wins of any MVC team.

At Home AND On the Road
Indiana State is the only MVC team to boast a winning record both at home and on the road so far this season.  The Sycamores are 10-3 in Terre Haute and are 7-6 in true road games. 

Six teams (Bradley, Evansville, Illinois State, Missouri State, Southern Illinois and Wichita State) have winning records on their home fields (and below .500 records on the road), while Creighton is the lone team to boast a better winning percentage on the road (10-3) than at home (1-6).

More Than What You Paid For
So far this season, Missouri Valley Conference teams are 12-9 in non-conference extra-inning games.  Four teams have winning records - Indiana State (3-0), Southern Illinois (3-0), Wichita State (1-0) and Creighton (3-2) - while another two teams have .500 records in non-MVC extra-inning games (Evansville and Illinois State are both 1-1).  Only Bradley (0-4) and Missouri State (0-1) have yet to win an extra-inning game outside of league play.

Two or Less
In 175 non-conference games, 68 games (.389) have been decided by two or fewer runs.  MVC teams are 20-26 (.435) in contests decided by one run and 11-11 (.500) in games decided by two runs.  Three Valley schools have above .500 records in games decided by two or fewer runs - Wichita State (2-0), Indiana State (8-5) and Southern Illinois (4-3), while Creighton (4-4) sits at an even .500. 

The other four MVC schools have been on the other end of close games - Missouri State (4-5), Bradley (4-8), Evansville (4-8) and Illinois State (1-4) - winning fewer than half of games decided by two runs or less.   

Top-10 Team Statistics
Three Missouri Valley Conference teams rank in the nation's top-10 in four different categories.  Indiana State is tied for fifth in sacrifice hits with 25, while also tying for ninth in triples (16).  Creighton ranks eighth in sacrifice hits (37), while Evansville is tied for 10th in stolen bases (71).

Season Streaks
Bradley and Illinois State are currently riding three-game hot streaks just three weekends into the conference season.  Below is a list of the longest winning streaks of 2010.

2010 Longest Winning Streaks
Southern Illinois - 6 (M28-A6)
Indiana Sate - 6 (M16-M23)
Wichita State - 6 (A3-A10)
Illinois State - 5 (M19-M27)
Missouri State - 4 (A2-A7)
Evansville - 3, three times (M10-M13, M19-M20 and M27-A2)
Creighton - 3, twice (F28-M5 and M10-M13)
Bradley - 3, twice (M6-M7 and A9-present)

Non-Con. Never Below .500
The Missouri Valley Conference boasts a 92-83 (.526) in non-conference action (through games of Sunday, Apr. 11).  Below are the best non-league results, dating back to 1981, as well as the number of post-season bids registered each season:

Year Non-Conf. +/- Post-Season Teams
1987 - 186-67 (.734) +119 2 NCAA (INS, WSU)
1985 - 196-80 (.708) +116 1 NCAA (CU, SIU, WSU)
1990 - 180-76 (.703) +104 3 NCAA (WSU)
1988 - 165-77 (.679) +88 1 NCAA (WSU)
1983 - 187-89 (.776) +98 2 NCAA (INS, WSU)
1986 - 168-84 (.663) +84 2 NCAA (INS, SIU)
1991 - 195-101 (.658) +94 2 NCAA (CU, WSU)
1998 - 154-82 (.651) +72 1 NCAA (WSU)
1999 - 163-88 (.649) +75 3 NCAA (CU, MSU, WSU)
1989 - 182-99 (.647) +83 2 NCAA (INS, WSU)
1982 - 201-110 (.646) +91 1 NCAA (WSU)
1995 - 157-86 (.645) +71 3 NCAA (INS, MSU, WSU)
2005 - 199-112 (.640) +87 2 NCAA (CU, WSU)
1984 - 141-81 (.634) +60 1 NCAA (INS)
1992 - 182-110 (.622) +72 2 NCAA (CU, WSU)
1981 - 190-117 (.619) +73 2 NCAA (SIU, WSU)
2007 - 183-116 (.612) +67 2 NCAA CU, WSU)
1993 - 177-121 (.594) +56 1 NCAA (WSU)
1996 - 141-105 (.573) +36 2 NCAA (MSU, WSU)
2002 - 134-100 (.572) +34 2 NCAA (MSU, WSU)
2006 - 173-130 (.571) +43 2 NCAA (UE, WSU)
1997 - 148-111 (.571) +37 2 NCAA (MSU, WSU)
2000 - 137-105 (.566) +32 3 NCAA (CU, UE, WSU)
1994 - 166-128 (.565) +38 2 NCAA (ILS, WSU)
2008 - 161-126 (.561) +31 1 NCAA (WSU)
2001 - 130-111 (.539) +19 1 NCAA (UNI)
2003 - 134-115 (.538) +19 2 NCAA (MSU, WSU)
2009 - 145-125 (.537) +20 1 NCAA (WSU)
2004 - 124-118 (.512) +6 1 NCAA (WSU)

Against the Field
The MVC holds a winning record against 10 leagues in non-conference play (Atlantic-10, Colonial, Great West, Horizon, Mid-American, Ohio Valley, Patriot, Southland, SWAC and Summit) and at least a .500 mark against another one (Big Sky). 

Against the 2009 NCAA Field
The Valley has won 14 games against 2009 NCAA Tournament teams, as all 14 wins have come from four teams - Bradley, Creighton, Missouri State and Wichita State. 

The Braves have five wins against the 2009 NCAA field - two versus Army and three against Tennessee Tech.  The Bears have tallied four wins versus 2009 Tournament teams - three against Oral Roberts and one versus Oklahoma State - while the Bluejays have three wins against last year's tournament field, including one each against Kansas State, Minnesota and Sam Houston State.  The Shockers have the final two victories, against Washington State and Oklahoma State

This week, Valley schools have a chance to pick up another win against a 2009 NCAA Tournament team, as Missouri State hosts Kansas in a mid-week matchup. 

It's About Time
Indiana State's series win against Creighton (Apr. 2-4) was their first series win over the Jays in Omaha since 1992.  In their previous three trips to face CU, the Sycamores had come back with ten losses and no wins.

Fireworks on Display
Missouri State's power display versus Oral Roberts on April 4 represented something not done at Missouri State since 2004.  The Bears bombed six home runs and tallied 41 total bases, identical to the numbers put up in a 2004 win at Saint Louis. Both numbers were Hammons Field records for MSU.

Now That's a Lot of Wins
Wichita State head coach Gene Stephenson won his 1,700th career game on Sunday, April 4 at Evansville.  He becomes just the second coach in Division I baseball history to reach that milestone, joining Augie Garrido of Texas.  Stephenson's career record now stands at 1,704-587-3.

Saluki Skipper for 200, Please
Southern Illinois head coach Dan Callahan picked up his 200th career Missouri Valley Conference victory in a 3-1 win over Bradley on Saturday, April 3.  He became the fifth coach in league history to reach the milestone and is just one of three active coaches with 200 Valley wins, joining Wichita State's Gene Stephenson (542) and Missouri State's Keith Guttin (296).

Quick Starts Crucial                                                   
If your team has plans on sitting atop the MVC standings heading into the league's postseason tournament, you might want to get off to a good start as every team that has won the MVC regular season has won at least 16 games since 2005, the first year of a 24-game conference schedule. 

In fact, only twice since 2005 has a team with a MVC winning percentage as low as .750 won the regular season title (2005, CU, 17-7; 2006, UE, 16-8).

Tight Races                                                
Since the start of the 24-game conference schedule in 2005 (three-game series), the top two places in the regular-season standings have been separated by just one game in every year except one - in 2009 when first-place Missouri State had a two-game lead over second-place Indiana State heading into the State Farm MVC Baseball Tournament.    

Back-to-Back
Missouri State is looking to become just the second Valley school to win back-to-back regular-season titles, as Wichita State is the only league school to have ever accomplished this feat.  The Shockers won back-to-back titles in 2007-2008, were winners of 14 consecutive regular-season championships from 1987-2000.

Deja' Vu
Wichita State has been the league's most dominant team since the inception of a conference schedule in 1984.  Since then, the Shockers have place in the top three of the regular season standings in 25 of the 26 seasons - the only season Wichita State did not finish in the top three was in 1984, the year the league first adopted a conference schedule.

Missouri State has placed in the league's top three in 13 of 19 seasons, including 11 of the last 14 seasons. 

Creighton has also finished in the top three 13 times - in the Bluejays' 26 seasons of league play.

This week's Missouri Valley Conference Baseball Player/Pitcher of the Week are Ryan Jones of Wichita State and Joe Bircher of Bradley.         
MISSOURI VALLEY CONFERENCE PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Ryan Jones, Sr., OF, Wichita State
Senior outfielder Ryan Jones led the Shockers to a 4-1 week including a win at Oklahoma State and a series victory over Southern Illinois.  He went 8-for-17 (.471) with eight runs, one double, three home runs, 10 RBI and a stolen base.  At OSU, he went 1-for-3 with a run, two RBI and a double to help the Shocks to a win.  Against Rogers State, he went 2-for-4 with three RBI and a home run.  In game two against SIU, he went 3-for-3 with two RBI and a home run and in the series finale he went 2-for-5 with two RBI and a home run.  He had a home run in three of the five games this week and had an RBI and run in each of the five games.

MISSOURI VALLEY CONFERENCE PITCHER OF THE WEEK
Joe Bircher, So., LHP, Bradley
Bircher moved into Bradley's No. 1 starting spot Friday night against Missouri State and completely baffled the potent MSU offense.  The sophomore left-hander pitched 8.0 scoreless innings, scattering eight hits while striking out a career high 10 batters and walking just one as the Braves blanked the Bears 7-0.  The shutout was Bradley's first since a 1-0 win against Southern Illinois on May 1, 2009.  Bircher (2-3) has pitched 16.0 innings in his last two starts and has lowered his ERA nearly four points in the process.   

Noteworthy - In addition to the league's player and newcomer of the week selections, several conference players had notable performances, and they include:  

  • Matt Fritz (BU) - Fritz finished 10-for-19 (.526) with five runs, four RBI's, two stolen bases, one homerun and one double as the Braves went 3-1 in four home games last week. The senior went 3-for-5 Friday night against Missouri State, including a two-run homerun, as the Braves blanked the Bears 7-0 for their first shutout victory since May 1, 2009. Fritz added another hit Saturday and closed out the series Sunday with a 5-for-6 performance, including a two-out walk-off RBI single in the bottom of the ninth, to give Bradley a 9-8 come from behind victory. Fritz's offensive production helped the Braves earned their first home Missouri Valley Conference sweep since April 29, 2007.

  • Eric Stamets (UE) - Stamets paced the Purple Aces' offense this weekend against independent powerhouse Dallas Baptist, as he hit .357 with two doubles, a home run, and three RBI in UE's three-game series with the Patriots.  Stamets was the hero of UE's 6-5 come-from-behind, walk-off victory on Thursday night, as he went 4-for-5 and finished a triple shy of the cycle, as he hit a game-winning, two-run walk-off home run to cap UE's rally from a 5-1 eighth-inning deficit.  Stamets also knocked an RBI double in Friday night's 3-2 victory over the Patriots which snapped a 1-1 tie in the fifth inning and gave UE a lead it would never lose.  For the week, Stamets went 5-for-14 at the plate with two doubles, a home run, three RBI and four runs scored.  He also added his league-leading 27th stolen base of the year.

  • Kevin Tokarski (ILS) - Tokarski led Illinois State with five runs scored and hit a game-winning home run to help Illinois State clinch its first series win over Creighton in Omaha since 1986, and the first ever sweep over the Bluejays. The sophomore from Downers Grove, Ill., had two extra-base hits among his four hits last week, including his league-leading 17th double of the season and a solo home run in the top of the sixth to push ISU past Creighton, 7-6, Saturday. Tokarski drew five free passes last week, two intentional. Tokarski stole two bases to move into second all-time at Illinois State with 52. He logged a .529 on-base percentage and is fifth in the nation with a .566 season on-base percentage. Tokarski is tied for sixth in the country with a .451 batting average through 29 games.

  • Robby Ort (INS) - Ort led Indiana State in nearly all offensive categories over their games this past week, going 9-19 (.474) at the plate with six RBI and five runs scored. The freshman outfielder performed his best in the three games against The Citadel, however, going an even .500 (6-12) at the plate with a robust 1.167 slugging percentage. Ort went 3-4 with a pair of home runs on Friday night off of Bulldog starter Asher Wojciechowski, who entered the contest as the nation's leader in strikeouts and a perfect 7-0 record, and tallied a double in both Saturday's and Sunday's games to assist ISU in earning the series victory over The Citadel. The newcomer leads ISU this season with three home runs and 30 RBI.

  • Tyler Paxson (MSU) - Paxson led Missouri state in batting average (.471), hits (8), RBIs (6) and slugging (.529) last week. He went 2-for-3 in Wednesday's win over Oklahoma State and opened the Bradley series 3-for-4 while playing just 45 miles from his hometown.He had two RBIs Saturday and knocked a two-run single to break a 6-6 tie in the ninth inning Sunday as part of a 2-for-5, three RBI effort.

  • Blake Pinnon (SIU) - Pinnon went 9-for-16 at the plate last week, helping SIU to a 2-2 record. He hit three doubles, one home run, had four RBIs and a .938 slugging percentage in the four games. Pinnon recorded the first two-double game of his career against Southeast Missouri State, where he also hit a home run and drove in four runs for the third time this year. His week extended his hitting streak that currently sits at eight games. 

  • Sam Johns (UE) - Johns limited the high-powered Dallas Baptist offense to just two runs on seven base hits in 6.0 innings of work on Friday night, as he keyed UE's 3-2 victory over the visiting Patriots.  Working against a Dallas Baptist offense which entered the weekend ranked 11th nationally in team batting average (.347), fifth nationally in home runs (50), ninth nationally in doubles (81), and 28th overall in runs scored (249), Johns scattered just six singles and a double in his 6.0 innings of work while yielding just two runs in the victory.  He retired the first seven men he faced in order, before the Patriots beat out an infield single.  He allowed just four men to reach scoring position in the outing, as he recorded four strikeouts and nine infield outs of his 18 outs recorded.

  • Ryan Copeland (ILS) - Like a batter hitting a home run in a key situation, Copeland's pitching performance changed the momentum of not only Friday's game but the entire weekend series as the senior from Des Plaines, Ill., helped lead Illinois State to its first ever sweep over Creighton. Copeland earned a win and a save in the weekend series and scattered just two hits over eight innings in three relief appearances last week. Copeland held Creighton scoreless through four innings Friday, after the Bluejays had plated six runs in the first four innings of the game, to help Illinois State snap a nine-game losing streak to the Jays. In Sunday's series finale, the left-handed pitcher added three more scoreless innings of relief while closing out the sweep and earning his first save of the season. The 3-0 series win marked the first series win over the Jays in Omaha since 1986 and first ever sweep. Copeland struck out seven batters last week and allowed just three men to reach base in eight innings. He has retired the first batter faced and not allowed a run in all five of his relief appearances this season. 

  • Joe Rodriguez (INS) - After Indiana State fell in a ninth-inning rally by The Citadel on Friday night, senior south paw Joe Rodriguez put the Sycamores on his back during Saturday's game. Rodriguez threw 144 pitches in a near complete game performance, tossing 8.2 innings on the mound. Over the first eight innings on Saturday, the senior from Middletown, N.Y., scattered five Bulldog hits and allowed three runs (one earned) while striking out eight batters. The Citadel attempted a late rally on Saturday as well, forcing Rodriguez out just before he could finish the complete game, but Rodriguez still picked up the win, striking out a season-high nine batters in the process.

  • Clay Murphy (MSU) - Murphy held a powerful Oklahoma State offense that entered the game hitting .341 to four hits over seven innings while striking out an MSU season-high 11 batters in the Bears' 7-5 win Wednesday. Murphy took a two-hitter into the eight before the first three batters reached safely. He left with a 4-3 lead which the bullpen lost, resulting in a no-decision for the freshman righty. He issued just two walks and held the Cowboys to .167 hitting.

  • Randy Hoelscher (SIU) - Hoelscher picked up his second-straight victory when he led SIU to a 9-5 win on Sunday at Wichita State. The lefty gave up three runs (two earned) and four hits in the first inning, but rebounded to retire 11-straight and he exited after the fifth inning with a 7-5 lead. Hoelscher tied his season-high by striking out four Shocker batters and he only walked one. He only allowed two hits over his last four innings pitched in the game.

  • Tim Kelley (WSU) - Kelley led the Shockers to a win on Saturday against Southern Illinois.  He pitched seven innings and allowed just one run on eight hits with seven strikeouts.  Kelley proved to be masterful at pitching out of jams and had a strikeout in five of his seven innings. 


Missouri Valley Conference Upcoming Schedule:

Tuesday, April 13
Evansville at Murray State, 3 PM
Kansas at Missouri State, 6:30 PM
Wichita State at Nebraska, 6:35 PM

Wednesday, April 14
Indiana State at Chicago State, 3 PM
Murray State at Evansville, 6 PM
Western Illinois at Bradley, 6 PM
Purdue at Illinois State, 6 PM
Missouri at Missouri State, 6:30 PM
Southern Illinois vs. Illinois, 6:30 PM

Friday, April 16
*Wichita State at Indiana State, 5:30 PM
*Southern Illinois at Illinois State, 6 PM
*Creighton at Bradley, 6 PM
Arkansas State at Evansville, 6 PM

Saturday, April 17
*Wichita State at Indiana State, 1 PM
*Southern Illinois at Illinois State, 2 PM
*Creighton at Bradley, 6 PM
Arkansas State at Evansville, 4 PM

Sunday, April 11
*Creighton at Bradley, 12 PM
*Wichita State at Indiana State, 12 PM
*Southern Illinois at Illinois State, 1 PM
Arkansas State at Evansville, 1 PM  
 
*MVC game