Monday, April 19, 2010 | Baseball
Baseball Weekly Notebook (Apr. 19)

Halfway Home
Following another three-game sweep over Southern Illinois last weekend, Illinois State widened its lead atop the league standings, as the Redbirds now sit with an 8-1 record in Valley play.  The Redbirds used three come-from-behind victories, including two in walk-off fashion, to sweep the Salukis.  Southern Illinois enters this week at 5-7 in conference play.

Indiana State handed Wichita State its first series setback in Valley action, taking two games from the Shockers, including the Sycamores first shutout victory of the season.  Wichita State still sits in second place in the league standings, entering this week with an 8-4 mark.  The Shockers will take a break from MVC play, opening a seven-game homestand with No. 17 Kansas State this Tuesday.

Creighton continued its winning ways on the road, taking two victories last weekend at Bradley, as the Jays improved to 12-4 in true road games this season.  The Braves enter this week at 4-8 in league play. 

Evansville (3-3 MVC) and Missouri State (1-5 MVC) took a break from league play last weekend.  The Purple Aces will return to Valley action this week, hosting Bradley, while the Bears will welcome Creighton to Hammons Field in Springfield, Mo.

Match Game
With an 8-4 victory against Creighton last Saturday, Bradley matched its Missouri Valley Conference win total from the 2009 season (4-17) - and the Braves still have nine Valley contests left on their 2010 schedule. 

Better Stay Away
Creighton has been nearly unbeatable on the road this year, posting a 12-4 overall record.  The series win at Bradley this weekend marked a program first for the Bluejays, as they now have won their first two conference road series, while losing their first two Valley home series.

That'll Help the RPI
Evansville's 5-0 week last week came at the expense of two teams top-100 RPI teams, in Murray State and Arkansas State (WarrenNolan.com).  Murray State entered last week's action with an RPI of 81, while Arkansas State sat at No. 54 in the RPI.  With the five victories, UE's RPI has improved from 124 last week to 81 entering this week's action.

Tokarski Making History
Illinois State second baseman Kevin Tokarski is having a season unmatched by many in Redbird history.  Tokarski knocked three doubles last week and has 20 on the season - just three shy of the Illinois State single season record set by Kevin Dubler in 2008. Tokarski, who already holds the single-season mark for stolen bases (32), is also likely to surpass Illinois State's career stolen bases mark at some point this season.  He has 52 career steals, three behind the Redbirds' all-time leader Mike Prior (55).

Role Reversal
Illinois State went a combined 0-6 against Creighton and Southern Illinois during a rough two-weekend stretch towards the end of last season, but flipped the script this season. The league-leading Redbirds have won six consecutive conference contests, including the first ever sweep of the Bluejays in Omaha and a series sweep over Southern Illinois at Duffy Bass Field last weekend.

Historic Strikeout Rate
The Missouri State pitching staff is striking out batters at a better rate than any other time in the Division I era (since 1983) this season, fanning 8.85 batters per nine innings.  The Bears struck out at least one batter per inning five times from 1964-1970, but the best figure since is an 8.74 average in 2001.  That team had four pitchers that eventually threw in the majors.

That's Offensive
SIU sophomore first baseman Chris Serritella has driven in 40 runs this season in 35 games played in.  That is already more RBIs than any Saluki had in all of the 2009 season and he needs seven more to surpass Mark Kelly's team-high of 46 in 2008. Serritella has 10 multiple-RBI games this season and 64 RBIs in his career.

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 12-4 in Terre Haute and are 8-6 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 (12-4) than at home (1-6).

More Than What You Paid For
So far this season, Missouri Valley Conference teams are 14-9 in non-conference extra-inning games.  Five teams have winning records - Indiana State (3-0), Southern Illinois (3-0), Wichita State (1-0), Evansville (3-1) and Creighton (3-2) - while Illinois State has a .500 record in non-MVC extra-inning games (Illinois State is 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 187 non-conference games, 73 games (.390) have been decided by two or fewer runs.  MVC teams are 24-26 (.480) in contests decided by one run and 11-12 (.478) in games decided by two runs.  Four Valley schools have above .500 records in games decided by two or fewer runs - Indiana State (11-7), Creighton (9-7), Illinois State (5-4) and Wichita State (3-2), while Southern Illinois (7-7) sits at an even .500.  The other three MVC schools have been on the other end of close games - Evansville (7-9), Missouri State (5-10) and Bradley (7-13) - winning fewer than half of games decided by two runs or less.

Top-10 Team Statistics
Two Missouri Valley Conference teams rank in the nation's top-10 in three different categories.

Indiana State is sixth in sacrifice hits with 25, while also ranking ninth in triples (16).  Creighton ranks ninth in sacrifice bunts (37).

Season Streaks
Evansville is currently riding five-game hot streak mindway 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)
Evansville 5, (A13-present)
Illinois State 5 (M19-M27)
Missouri State 4 (A2-A7)
Creighton 3, twice (F28-M5 and M10-M13)
Bradley 4 (A9-A14)

Non-Con. Never Below .500
The Missouri Valley Conference boasts a 100-87 (.535) in non-conference action (through games of Sunday, Apr. 18).  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 two (Big Sky and Sun Belt). 

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 Wichita State hosts No. 17 Kansas State 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 1,705-590-3.

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 (543) 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 Greg Wallace of Evansville and Jacob Petricka of Indiana State.
        
MISSOURI VALLEY CONFERENCE PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Greg Wallace, Jr., OF, Evansville
Junior Greg Wallace hit a team-best .545 with four doubles, a triple, seven runs scored and 11 RBI to help UE go a perfect 5-0 against two teams which entered the week ranked in the RPI's top 100 in Murray State and Arkansas State.  Wallace opened his week by going 5-for-6 with two doubles, a triple and five RBI in UE's 20-17 extra-inning victory at Murray State on Tuesday, as he finished a home run shy of becoming the first UE player ever to hit for the cycle.  He then followed that performance up with a 2-for-5 effort in UE's 14-5 victory over the Thoroughbreds in which he scored two runs and drove in another run.  Against Arkansas State, a team which received votes in last week's National Collegiate Baseball Writers' Association poll, Wallace went 5-for-11 in the three-game series with five RBI and two runs scored.  He helped key UE's 7-4 victory over the Red Wolves on Saturday by going 3-for-5 with a double and three RBI.  He then went 2-for-2 with two hit-by-pitches, a walk, two runs scored, and two RBI, as he laced a key two-run double in the eighth inning which capped a four-run rally by the Purple Aces to snap a 5-5 tie and clinch the series sweep.  For the week, Wallace went 12-for-22 at the plate with four doubles, a triple, seven runs scored and 11 RBI.  He posted an .818 slugging percentage and a .630 on-base percentage, while going a perfect 3-for-3 in the stolen base department.

MISSOURI VALLEY CONFERENCE PITCHER OF THE WEEK
Jacob Petricka, Jr., RHP, Indiana State
Indiana State junior right-handed pitcher Jacob Petricka turned in his best pitching performance of the season on Friday night against Wichita State, throwing 118 pitches and allowing just three hits over eight innings on the mound. Petricka, the MVC leader this season in strikeouts, pushed his season total to 60 by fanning nine Shocker batters to lead the Sycamores to a 2-0 win over WSU, their first shutout of the season. Friday's win for Petricka moved his ERA on the season down to 3.77 over 59.2 innings on the mound, both tops on the ISU pitching staff.  

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

  • Jason Leblebijian (BU) - Leblebijian was 7-for-14 (.500) with five runs, two doubles and one RBI in four games last week. He had his first career three-hit game and scored two runs Wednesday as the Braves came from behind to beat Western Illinois 10-9, and added four hits in Bradley's three-game series against Creighton. In Saturday's 8-4 victory over the Bluejays, Leblebijian was 2-for-3 with two runs, one double and one RBI. The freshman is hitting .349 as Bradley's No. 9 hitter and has started at five different positions for the Braves this season.

  • Elliott Soto (CU) - Soto was the catalyst at the top of Creighton's lineup this weekend, as the junior went 6-for-13 (.462) with two hits in all three games. He scored five runs, knocked in two, and had a double and triple while stealing one base.  Soto finished the weekend with a .500 OBP and .692 slugging percentage.

  • Kevin Tokarski (ILS) - Opponents are having a hard time keeping Tokarski off the base paths as the Redbird second baseman reached 10 times and scored six runs during last week's games. Tokarski went 7-for-12 (.583) at the plate to raise his league-leading batting average to .465, and walked three times to yield a .667 on base percentage for the week. Tokarksi scored the game winning run on a walk-off single by Anthony Ruffolo in the bottom of the ninth in Friday's series-opening win over Southern Illinois, and helped the Redbirds sweep their second-consecutive conference series by driving in the go-ahead runs with a double in the bottom of the eighth in Sunday's game. Tokarski hit three doubles last week and leads the Valley with 20 on the season. He's three doubles shy of tying the single-season mark at Illinois State, and sits three steals away from tying the Redbirds' career mark for stolen bases. On a national scale, there's nobody better in the country at getting on base (.576). The Downers Grove, Ill., native has the second-best batting average (.465) and second-most doubles (20) in the nation.

  • Jeremy Lucas (INS) - Lucas led the Sycamores in hitting over their four games this past week, going 6-16 (.375) at the plate with four doubles, 10 total bases and a team-high slugging percentage of .625. Lucas also showed his defensive skills from behind the plate on Sunday, gunning down a pair of runners on stolen base attempts.

  • Keenen Maddox (MSU) - Maddox hit .571 in Missouri State's two games last week and finished in style with a two-run walk-off home run against Missouri. Maddox hit two homers and went 3-for-4 with three RBIs and three runs in the Mizzou game. His first homer was solo shot that broke up a no-hitter in the fifth, and he added a single in the seventh before ending the game with a two-run blast to left. Tuesday against Kansas, Maddox went 1-for-3 with a walk and an RBI, giving him four RBIs for the week and a .625 on-base percentage to go with his 1.429 slugging average.

  • Tyler Bullock (SIU) - Bullock returned from missing a game with a hamstring injury to hit three home runs in the series at Illinois State. In game one the senior catcher, who is on the Johnny Bench Award watch list, belted two, two-run homers. It was his third career two-homer game and he tied his season-high with four RBIs. Then in Sunday's series finale with the Redbirds, Bullock hit a first-inning two-run bomb. That gave him 25 home runs in his career, as he became just the sixth Saluki in program history with 25 or more home runs.

  • Cody Lassley (WSU) - Cody Lassley played in three games last week for the Shockers and went 5-for-12 with two runs, one home run and three RBI.  On Saturday at Indiana State, he went 3-for-4 with three RBI and a home run. On Sunday, he went 2-for-4.

  • Kori Jensen (BU) - Jensen improved his record to 4-2 this season with two wins in two relief appearances last week. The senior allowed just one hit and no earned runs in 3.0 innings pitched. He worked a hitless eighth in Bradley's 10-9 come from behind victory over Western Illinois Wednesday, and allowed just one hit in 2.0 innings as the Braves topped Creighton 8-4 Saturday.

  • Ty Blach (CU) - Blach had another fine outing on Sunday for the Bluejays, picking up his first collegiate win. He was perfect through four innings for the second straight start, finishing with just two earned runs allowed in eight innings of work. Blach also came one strikeout short of matching his season high of seven. The freshman hasn't allowed more than three earned runs in any of his starts this season.

  • Sam Johns (UE) - Johns went 2-0 with a 4.50 ERA in two appearances this week for the Purple Aces, striking out 10 men in 8.0 innings of work.  Johns first earned the victory on Wednesday evening in UE's 14-5 victory over Murray State, as he allowed just an unearned run in 2.0 hitless innings of relief work against the Thoroughbreds.  Johns then struck out a season-high nine men in 6.0 innings of work on Saturday afternoon in UE's 7-4 victory over the Arkansas State Red Wolves to pick up the victory.  Johns recorded at least one strikeout in five of the first six innings he worked, and hit a stretch where he struck out five batters in a row, including striking out the side looking in the sixth inning.  He scattered four runs on 10 hits in the outing.

  • Kenny Long (ILS) - Long earned the win in all three games over the weekend as Illinois State swept Southern Illinois to extend its Missouri Valley Conference winning streak to six games. The sophomore left-hander became the first Redbird pitcher ever to win three games in a Valley series. Long struck out nine batters in five innings and was unhittable - allowing just one base runner on a walk in Sunday's series finale. The Fox River Grove, Ill., native was especially tough on the Saluki's No. 3 and No. 4 hitters in the lineup, as they went a combined 0-for-6 with five strikeouts. In conference games, Long is tied for the league lead with three wins and leads the Valley with three saves. His 1.30 ERA on the season is one of the top-10 marks in the country and he's striking out batters at a rate of 10.9 per nine innings. Long leads the country in opponent batting average, limiting opposing hitters to a .122 average. 

  • Mike Kickham (MSU) - Kickham fanned 11 Missouri hitters in seven innings and allowed one earned run Wednesday in the Bears' 5-4 win. He scattered six hits, all but one of them singles and walked three while matching MSU's season best with 11 strikeouts.

  • Josh Smith (WSU) - Josh Smith earned his first Missouri Valley Conference win on Sunday at Indiana State.  He pitched a career-high 7.2 innings and allowed just one run on two hits with five strikeouts.  He allowed just four baserunners in the game and had five 1-2-3 innings.

Missouri Valley Conference Upcoming Schedule:

Tuesday, April 20
Indiana State at Ball State, 2 PM
SEMO at Southern Illinois, 3 PM
Missouri State at Saint Louis, 6 PM
Southern Indiana at Evansville, 6 PM
Illinois State at Illinois, 6:05 PM
Nebraska at Creighton, 7 PM
No. 17 Kansas State at Wichita State, 7 PM

Wednesday, April 21
Illinois State at Northwestern, 3 PM
Murray State at Southern Illinois, 3 PM
Wisconsin-Milwaukee at Bradley (DH), 5 PM
SIU Edwardsville at Missouri State, 6:30 PM
Bethany College at Wichita State, 7 PM

Friday, April 23
*Creighton at Missouri State, 2 PM
*Indiana State at Southern Illinois, 3 PM
*Bradley at Evansville, 6 PM
San Jose State at Wichita State, 7 PM

Saturday, April 24
*Bradley at Evansville, 2 PM
*Creighton at Missouri State, 2 PM
*Indiana State at Southern Illinois, 2 PM
San Jose State at Wichita State, 2 PM

Sunday, April 25
*Bradley at Evansville, 1 PM
*Creighton at Missouri State, 1 PM
*Indiana State at Southern Illinois, 1 PM
Saint Xavier at Illinois State (DH), 12 PM
San Jose State at Wichita State, 1 PM
 
*MVC game