Baseball Weekly Notebook (Apr. 4)
Monday, April 4, 2011

Beginning on Friday, April 8, all eight Missouri Valley Conference teams will get their first taste of league play with Creighton traveling to Illinois State, Bradley playing at Indiana State, Wichita State visiting Missouri State and Southern Illinois heading to Evansville.  Each of the weekend match-ups are schedule for a three-game series.

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, last season was the first time a team won the MVC regular-season title (Illinois State and Wichita State) with fewer than 16 league victories (15-6).

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.    

Illinois State and Wichita State are looking to become just the second Valley school to win back-to-back regular-season titles, as the Shockers are the only league school to have ever accomplished this feat.  Wichita State won back-to-back titles in 2007-2008, were winners of 10 consecutive regular-season championships from 1991-2000 and also won three straight titles from 1987-89.

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 26 of the 27 seasons – the only season Wichita State did not finish in the top three was in 1984, the year the league first adoped a conference schedule.

Missouri State has placed in the league’s top three in 13 of 20 seasons, including 11 of the last 15 seasons. 

Creighton has also finished in the top three 13 times – in the Bluejays' 27 seasons of league play.

The MVC holds a winning record against 13 leagues in non-conference play (Atlantic-10, Big 12, Big East, Great West, Horizon, Metro Atlantic, Mountain West, Ohio Valley, Pac-10, Southland, SWAC, Summit and West Coast) and at least a .500 mark against another four (ACC, Atlantic Sun, Mid-American and Sun Belt). 

The Valley has won 19 games against 2010 NCAA Tournament teams, as five league teams have wins over last year's NCAA field – Creighton, Illinois State, Missouri State, Southern Illinois and Wichita State. 

The Shockers have six wins against the 2010 NCAA field, including two each over Oregon and Arizona and one each over Oral Roberts and Hawaii.  The Bluejays have four wins against the 2010 NCAA field – all four versus New Mexico, while the Bears have also tallied four victories – two each over Oral Roberts and Saint Louis.  Illinois State has notched three wins versus 2010 Tournament teams – as the Redbirds have beaten UW-Milwaukee twice and Miami (FL) once, while Southern Illinois has two wins over 2010 NCAA Tournament participants – Grambling State and Oral Roberts.

The MVC holds a 5-7 record against top-25 teams so far this season, with all five wins belonging to Wichita State (two wins over No. 11 Arizona, two wins at No. 24 Oregon and one win at No. 24 Tulane).  The Valley was a combined 2-11 against top-25 teams last season. 

Against the six BCS conferences, the Valley holds a winning record over three (Big 12, Big East and Pac-10) and an even .500 record against another the ACC. 

This week's Missouri Valley Conference Baseball Player/Pitcher of the Week are Chris O'Brien and Josh Smith of Wichita State.

Chris O'Brien, Jr., C, Wichita State
Junior Chris O’Brien went 8-for-15 (.533) in four games last week for Wichita State.  He started all four games at catcher and scored four runs and had five doubles, one home run, 10 RBI, a walk and a sacrifice fly. He also had a perfect fielding percentage in 39 total chances.  He had multiple hits in all four games this week and drove in a run in three of the four games.  In game one at Hawaii, he went 2-for-6 with three RBI and in game two, he went 2-for-3 with a run and two doubles and tied his career-high with five RBI. He drove in five of WSU’s six runs in the game.  In game three, he went 2-for-3 with a run and two doubles and in game four, he went 2-for-3 with two runs, two RBI, a double and a home run.  He is now on a five-game hitting streak and in the last 10 games, he is hitting .421 with a .737 slugging percentage.

Josh Smith, Jr., LHP, Wichita State
Smith earned the win on March 31 at Hawaii.  He threw seven shutout innings and allowed just four singles with one walk and tied his career-high with seven strikeouts.  He allowed just three baserunners into scoring position and allowed the leadoff batter to reach in just one inning.  He had at least one strikeout in four of the seven innings and struck out the side in the sixth inning.

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

Mike Tauchman (BU) - Tauchman helped Bradley to a 3-1 record last week by batting .500 (7-14) with five runs batted in and six runs scored.  He also drew four walks and did not strike out in any of his 18 plate appearances, giving him a .611 on-base percentage for the week.  Tauchman was 2-for-2 with a walk, two RBI’s and three runs scored in an abbreviated start Tuesday versus Eureka.  His at-bat brought home the go-ahead run in Friday’s 6-1 win against Western Illinois and he later drove in the third run … In Sunday’s series finale, a 14-9 victory, Tauchman was 3-for-5 with two RBI’s and two runs scored and he was the tying run during Bradley’s 6th-inning rally to take the lead.

Trever Adams (CU) - Adams proved to be Mr. Clutch last week, picking up two game-winning hits, one which was a home run and the other was a walk off single in the bottom of the ninth.  Adams finished the week with a .444 batting average in four games, picking up eight hits in 18 at bats.  He recorded a .889 slugging percentage as he had two doubles and two home run and knocked in 10 runs, including the two game winners.  In the North Dakota State game, the Jays trailed 2-1 in the eighth when Adams hit a two out, two run home run to help propel the Jays to a win.  In the 4-3 win over Portland on Sunday, Adams came up with two outs and runners on first and second with the game tied at three.  Adams ripped a single back up the middle to drive in the winning run.  On the season, Adams holds a .390 batting average, leading the team with 39 hits, three triples, six home runs and 28 RBI.  Adams has a .720 slugging percentage and a .427 on base percentage while hitting in the clean-up spot. 

Greg Wallace (UE) - Wallace led the squad with nine runs scored, piloting the Aces to a 4-1 week, including a three-game sweep over IPFW. Wallace hit .412 on the week, with seven hits, including a 4-for-5 effort in UE’s 14-6 Sunday afternoon win. In that game, Wallace tallied a single, two doubles, and a triple, crossing the plate four times and batting one in. In UE’s 4-3 win over IPFW, Wallace belted his fifth home run of the season and also scored the tying run in the seventh inning after reaching on a walk. Wallace tallied a hit and run scored in both UE’s 11-0 win over IPFW and 3-0 win over USI. The Nanaimo, British Columbia native also stole three bases on three attempts for the week and had a perfect fielding percentage in centerfield. Wallace has started and played every inning of every game for the past two seasons, and currently owns a .374 batting average on the year.

Mike Hollenback (ILS) - Hollenbeck went 9-for-15 (.600) with a team-best 11 RBI and seven runs scored last week, as Illinois State lost at Illinois before sweeping a four-game home-series against Chicago State. Hollenbeck collected three extra-base hits, including two home runs and a double during the five-game stretch. The freshman from Plainfield, Ill., also slugged 1.067, amassed a .667 on-base percentage and walked five times. During the four-game Chicago State series, Hollenbeck hit .692, slugged 1.231 and earned a .722 on-base percentage. In the second game of the series, on Saturday, April 2, Hollenbeck belted his first collegiate home run, a grand slam in the fifth inning, and drove home a team-best five runs in the 17-2 win. In game two of Saturday’s doubleheader, Hollenbeck hit another home run, this time a three-run shot to lead ISU to a 15-4 victory. He now ranks third on the team with a .324 batting average and a .437 on-base percentage.

Jon Hedges (INS) - Hedges led the Sycamores at the plate during their perfect 4-0 stretch during the midweek, going 7-for-12 (.583) with three doubles in the batter’s box. Hedges picked up hits in each of ISU’s four games last week, knocking an extra-base hit in three out of the four to total three RBIs and three runs scored. The ISU junior also topped the Sycamores with 10 total bases and a .643 on-base percentage while checking in second with an .833 slugging percentage.

Aaron Conway (MSU) - Conway batted .556 (10-for-18) and produced nine runs in four games last week to lead Missouri State to a 3-1 record against Kansas and Saint Louis. Conway had three doubles, a triple, five RBIs and four runs scored while slugging .833. The senior started the week by going 3-for-4 with three RBIs against Kansas, then doubled and scored a run in Friday’s win at Saint Louis. Saturday, Conway went 3-for-5 with two doubles and a two-run triple at Saint Louis, then went 3-for-5 and scored twice Sunday versus the Billikens, raising his average to an MVC-leading .410. Conway was perfect in the field while pushing his streak to 135 consecutive starts in center.

Wes Neece (SIU) - Neece batted .444 over the week for the Salukis and he had two or more hits in all three games of the series at Kennesaw State. Neece also had a double in every game over the weekend, giving him seven on the year and that is tied for the team lead. His strong week at the plate moved him into the team batting lead, as he is now hitting .326. In Neece’s last seven games, he has had five multiple-hit days and has had three hits three times, including the last two games of the Kennesaw State series.

Joe Bircher (BU) - Bircher (4-2) got Bradley’s weekend series versus Western Illinois started on the right track by allowing only one unearned run on five hits in 7.0 innings en route to Friday’s 6-1 victory against the Leathernecks.  After Western Illinois loaded the bases with one out in the third inning, Bircher retired the next 11 batters he faced, allowing the Braves to take control.

Jonas Dufek (CU) - Dufek had another two solid outings this week, pitching 11.0 innings and striking out 12 more batters to bring his season total to a team leading 52.  In his only start of the week, Dufek threw 8.0 innings of near perfect baseball.  He allowed no runs on just four hits, striking out 11.  Dufek didn’t walk a single batter in his outing on Saturday, his fourth win of the season in seven appearances.  In 3.0 innings of relief against North Dakota State, Dufek struck out one and allowed two earned runs.  The senior holds a 1.62 ERA on the season, allowing opponents just a .200 batting average this year.  Dufek has thrown a team leading 44.1 innings hand has given up just eight earned runs while striking out 52 batters.

Kyle Lloyd (UE) - Evansville scored 11 runs to support sophomore Kyle Lloyd on the mound Friday night, but he only needed one of them, as Lloyd shut out IPFW for seven innings in UE’s 11-0 victory. The right-hander improved his record to 2-2 on the mound with the win, allowing just four hits, a walk, while striking out five. Lloyd did not allow a hit in five of his seven innings of work. He leads the Aces with 21 strikeouts on the season.

Corey Maines (ILS) - Maines (5-0) recorded a career-high 12 strikeouts (topping his previous high of 11, which was set the preceding Friday), as the senior right-hander led Illinois State to an 18-2 home win against Chicago State, Friday, April 1. Maines allowed just four hits and three walks over five innings without giving up an earned run. Maines notched his fifth victory of the season without a defeat, which is a team-best. The Houston, Texas native’s ERA dropped to 1.91, which is a team-low among Redbird starters. Maines also leads ISU in innings pitched (42.1) and strikeouts (53), and opposing batters are hitting just .192 against Maines.

Sean Manaea (INS) - Manaea turned in his best performance of his young Sycamore career on Wednesday against Eastern Illinois, tying his career-high with nine strikeouts over eight innings. The Sycamore southpaw allowed just five singles and one walk to the Panthers, who did not score an earned run in ISU’s 5-2 victory. Manaea is currently third on the team with a 3.71 ERA while holding a 3-2 record over six starts.

Cameron Maldonado (SIU) - Maldonado picked up his second victory of the season when he allowed just three hits and one run in six innings of work on Friday at Kennesaw State. Maldonado tied his career-high with seven strikeouts in the game and worked around four walks to allow just the one run. Maldonado has 29 strikeouts against 15 walks this year in seven starts.