Baseball Weekly Notebook (Apr. 11)
Monday, April 11, 2011

Southern Illinois was the lone Missouri Valley Conference team to open league action unscathed, finishing off the three-game sweep of Evansville on the road.

Creighton, Indiana State and Missouri State were also series winners in MVC opening play, as the Bluejays, Sycamores and Bears all went 2-1 last weekend.

Bradley, Illinois State and Wichita State opened conference play 1-2, while Evansville is still looking for its first MVC victory.

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 five (ACC, Atlantic Sun, Big Ten, 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 two (ACC and Big Ten). 

Creighton, Evansville and Missouri State each boast winning records both at home and on the road so far this season.  Illinois State and Indiana State are also on the verge, as both the Redbirds and Sycamores have winning home records and at .500 road records.

The Valley is a whopping 25-1 in shutout games this season.  Six teams (Wichita State, Creighton, Evansville, Indiana State, Missouri State and Bradley) are all undefeated in shutout games, while Southern Illinois is 2-1.  Illinois State is the only league team that has not played in a shutout game this season.

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

Chris O'Brien, Jr., C, Wichita State
Chris O’Brien went 14-for-25 (.560) in five games last week for Wichita State.  He started all five games at catcher and scored six runs and had four doubles, one home run, and 11 RBI. He had multiple hits in all five games this week and drove in a run in four of the five games.  In game one against Alcorn State, he went 3-for-5 with a career-high six RBI, a run and a double and in game two against the Braves, he went 3-for-5 with two runs and an RBI.  In the first game at Missouri State, he went 4-for-5 with two runs, three RBI, two doubles and a home run.  In game two, he went 2-for-5 with a run and in game three, he went 2-for-5 with an RBI and a double.  He is now on a career-best 10-game hitting streak and in the last 15 games, he is hitting .476 with 10 doubles, three home runs, 29 RBI and a .778 slugging percentage.

Charlie Lowell, Jr., LHP, Wichita State
Charlie Lowell earned the win on Saturday at Missouri State.  He pitched a career-high eight innings and allowed just one run on three singles with two walks and a career-high 13 strikeouts.  He struck out at least one batter in each of the eight innings including two in the first, third and seventh and three in the eighth.  He also struck out five-straight late in the game.  He entered the ninth, but tired as he walked the first two batters on full counts and then left the game to the Shocker bullpen.  His run was given up on a sacrifice fly in the ninth. A runner did not reach scoring position against him until the ninth inning. 

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

Derek Sprout (BU) -
Sprout was Bradley’s leading hitter during a 5-game week, batting .389 (7-18) with his first career home run, a team-best five RBI’s and a .522 on-base percentage.  In Tuesday’s 7-4 win against Illinois, Sprout’s sixth-inning homer gave the Braves their first lead in the come-from-behind win against the Illini.  In Friday’s 5-3 loss at Indiana State, Sprout hit a 2-run single in the fifth inning that gave the Braves a 3-2 lead.  In Sunday’s 9-8 win at Indiana State, Sprout hit a leadoff single in the eighth and came around to score the tying run, then drew a bases loaded walk that forced an 8-8 tie in the ninth inning.

Trever Adams (CU) - Adams again put together an amazing week offensively, leading the Jays with a .353 average last week.  After losing the series opener 5-4, Creighton won the next two to pick up the series win.  Adams finished the week with six hits, three of which were for extra bases (home runs in the Nebraska and first Illinois State games and a triple in the second Illinois State game).  It marked the 10th home run for the senior in the last 10 games.  He recorded a .824 slugging percentage and a .368 on base percentage for the week, picking up a walk in the Nebraska game.  Adams also picked up 11 RBI in the three games, improving his RBI total to a team leading 39, including 27 runs batted in in the last 11 games (2.5 per game).  He proved his aggressiveness and speed on the base paths, picking up his totals on the season to 11 with four in the last week (including two on Sunday).  Adams still remains perfect in the outfield, committing no errors on 60 chances.  Overall this season, Adams is leading the team with a .385 batting average.  He has 45 hits and 39 total RBI, leading the team in both categories.  Adams has a team high eight home runs, four triples and 11 stolen bases.  He is currently on a 13 game hit streak, the longest of any Bluejay this season.  Adams holds a .735 slugging percentage and a .419 on base percentage.

Trentt Copeland (UE) - Copeland led Evansville with a .500 batting average on the week, including three doubles, and his first home run of the season. Copeland hit two doubles in UE’s, 24-3, trounce over Austin Peay, batting in two runs, while scoring four. The Guelph, Ontario native belted a solo homerun in the Aces’ 5-3 win over SIUE. Copeland led UE at the plate versus Southern Illinois, going 2-for-3 in game one and 3-for-4 with a double and run scored in game two. Copeland also played a solid second base all week, recording a perfect fielding percentage in 29 chances.

David Fallon (ILS) - David Fallon went a team-best 6-for-11 (.545) during the last four games, driving in two runs on a double and a triple, and scoring three runs against Northern Illinois and Creighton. Fallon slugged a team-high .818 and amassed a team-best .643 on-base percentage. The Glenview, Ill., native successfully stole two bases in three attempts and maintained a perfect 1.000% fielding percentage. Fallon, who transferred to Illinois State from St. John’s, had a breakout game at Northern Illinois last Tuesday, knocking out a career-high two hits, stealing his first base and scoring a run. Fallon matched his 2-for-4 effort Sunday against Creighton. Fallon is now hitting .391, slugging .609 and has amassed a .500 on-base percentage.

Robby Ort (INS) - Ort led ISU to a 4-1 record last week, topping the Sycamore roster with a .474 (9-for-19) batting average with one home run and seven RBIs. Ort tallied at least one hit and one run batted in over all five games last week, while playing both second base and right field for the Sycamores. The ISU sophomore hit his team-leading sixth home run of the season against Valparaiso, surpassing his total of five long balls that led ISU last season in his rookie campaign. Ort is currently second on the team with a .368 average at the plate this season, while leading Indiana State with 18 extra-base hits, six home runs and 38 RBIs

Jordan Sivertsen (SIU) - Sivertsen led Southern Illinois to four wins last week, including a series sweep at Evansville to open league play. Sivertsen hit .500 (7-for-14) over the week with three home runs and six RBIs. He scored seven runs, had a 1.214 slugging percentage, stole home once and had one outfield assist. Four of his seven hits went for extra bases, as he also doubled to go with his home run in Sunday’s victory. He had two hits in all three of the wins at Evansville and drove in at least one run in three of the four games over the week. Sivertsen’s three-run homer with two outs in Saturday’s game over Evansville pushed Southern’s lead up to 7-0 after seven and effectively sealed that victory. He also scored three runs in that Saturday win, which tied his career-high. Then in Sunday 6-3 win over the Aces, his solo homer gave the Salukis a two-run cushion in the seventh when they came into the inning with a one-run lead. The junior now leads Southern Illinois with a .327 average this year and has eight doubles, two triples, six home runs and 26 RBIs.

Kurt Spomer (CU) - Spomer, who started the season off with 8.2 innings of scoreless relief for the Jays, picked up two saves in the wins over Illinois State on the weekend, as the Jays took two-of-three from the Redbirds in the MVC opener.  Spomer came in with a 4-2 lead in the Saturday game (an 8-2 Bluejay win), retiring eight straight batters to end the game, three by virtue of the strike out, including the final out of the game.  Spomer threw 2.2 innings of relief, allowing no runs on no hits, walking none and striking out the three.  In the Sunday game, Spomer came into the game with a 6-4 lead and the tying run at the plate.  Spomer allowed a double that scored the run, but then struck out the final batter of the game to pick up his second save in as many days.  Spomer finished with one hit and one strike out in the 6-5 win for the Jays.  The right hander from Honey Creek, Iowa, also started the game against Nebraska, going 2.0 innings and allowing two earned runs and two strike outs.  On the season, Spomer has a 2.88 ERA in 15 appearances.  He has three saves, allowing just eight earned runs while striking out 18 batters.

Josh Biggs (UE) - Biggs (1-0) piloted Evansville to a 5-3 win over SIU Edwardsville. The southpaw threw six scoreless innings on the mound, allowing just three hits, two walks, while striking out four. Biggs was dominant in his six innings, not allowing a single SIUE player to advance past first base. On the season, Biggs owns a 2.11 ERA with seven relief appearances.

Corey Maines (ILS) - Maines (6-0) matched his win-total from last season, earning the victory in Illinois State’s win against Creighton Saturday. Maines pitched seven innings, striking out nine, and allowing two earned runs on five hits. The Houston, Texas native’s is a team-low 2.01, and Maines also leads ISU in innings pitched (49.1) and strikeouts (62), and opposing batters are hitting just .194 against the right-hander.

Chris Machado (INS) - Machado appeared in four out of five games for the Sycamores last week, picking up one win and one save over four scoreless innings on the mound. Machado earned the save in ISU’s 3-2 victory on the road at Valparaiso on Tuesday, working a perfect ninth inning with one strikeout for his first save of the season. The junior reliever earned the victory in opening game of ISU’s weekend series with Bradley working a scoreless eighth inning of the tie ballgame. For the week, Machado tossed four innings, striking out four batters while allowing just two hits and no runs.

Pierce Johnson (MSU) - Johnson went 1-0 with a 0.90 ERA, 12 strikeouts and a .176 opponent average last week, logging the MVC’s only complete game and finishing second among all MVC pitchers with 10 innings over the past seven days. Johnson’s week began with a complete-game win on the road at Kansas, where the sophomore struck out a career-high 10 Jayhawks against six hits and two walks, holding KU scoreless until two were out in the bottom of the ninth inning in MSU’s 5-1 win. Then on Sunday, Johnson entered in the eighth inning of the series finale with Wichita State, retiring the side in order with a pair of strikeouts to earn a critical hold in the Bears’ series-clinching 8-7 victory.

Cameron Maldonado (SIU) - Maldonado gave up no earned runs in 8.1 innings of work in a 5-1 victory at Evansville to open Missouri Valley Conference play. Maldonado walked just one batter and struck out a career-high eight in his eighth start of the season. He took a shutout into the ninth inning before one unearned run came home to take his shutout away. The junior recorded two strikeouts in three different innings, including in the fourth when he struck out the side. His 113-pitch gem gave him his second-straight victory and led the Salukis that eventually swept the Aces.