Monday, May 09, 2011 | Baseball
Baseball Weekly Notebook (May 9)

THE FINAL STRETCH
With just two weekends remaining in the regular season schedule, Creighton (10-5 MVC) and Wichita State (9-6 MVC) are at the head of the pack in the league standings. 

Missouri State (8-6 MVC), Illinois State (8-7 MVC) and Southern Illinois (8-7 MVC) are all in hot pursuit of moving up the ladder.

Evansville (6-8 MVC) and Indiana State (6-9 MVC) remain in close contention, while Bradley (4-11 MVC) holds onto the eighth position.

FIVE IN RPI's TOP-100
According to the latest RPI update from the NCAA (May 3), for the first time this season, five Missouri Valley Conference teams are in the RPI's top-100.  Creighton leads the way at No. 46, followed by Illinois State (No. 72), Missouri State (No. 86), Wichita State (No. 88) and Evansville (No. 95).

WATCH THE TOURNAMENT
Every game of this year’s State Farm MVC Tournament will be available on the air.  MVC Live, the conference’s online streaming production, will carry the first 14 games of the tournament and Fox Sports Midwest will televise the tournament final on Saturday, May 28 at 7 p.m.  Fans can sign up for the free stream by visiting www.mvc-sports.com and clicking on the banner at the top of the page or by clicking “subscribe” underneath the video player.

AGAINST THE FIELD
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). 

AGAINST THE 2010 NCAA FIELD
The Valley has won 20 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 five wins against the 2010 NCAA field – four versus New Mexico and one against Kansas State, while the Bears have  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.

TOP-25 VICTORIES
The MVC holds a 6-9 record against top-25 teams so far this season, with all six wins belonging to Wichita State (two wins over No. 11 Arizona, two wins at No. 24 Oregon, one win at No. 24 Tulane and one win against No. 19 Oklahoma State).  The Valley was a combined 2-11 against top-25 teams last season. 

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

SHUTOUT SUCCESS
The Valley is a whopping 29-1 in non-conference shutout games this season.  Six teams (Wichita State, Creighton, Evansville, Indiana State, Missouri State and Bradley) are all undefeated in non-conference shutout games, while Southern Illinois is 3-1.  Illinois State is the only league team that has not played in a shutout game this season.

WEEKEND SHUTOUTS
By winning Friday's game against Southern Illinois, 9-0, and Sunday's series finale, 4-0, Bradley posted two shutouts in the same Valley series for the first time since April 14-16, 2006, when the Braves blanked Illinois State in the first and third games.  Earlier that same season, Bradley shutout Creighton in the first and third games of their March 24-26 series at O'Brien Field, the only other time the Braves have recorded multiple shutouts in a MVC series at O'Brien Field.

100th O'BRIEN FIELD VICTORY
Sunday's 4-0 win against Southern Illinois was the 100th for Bradley at O'Brien Field since the Braves moved to the downtown Peoria ballpark in 2003.  With four home games remaining in the 2011 season, Bradley is 100-81 (.552) all-time at O'Brien Field.

MR. CONSISTENT
Trever Adams extended his reaching base streak to 27 games this weekend, picking up a hit in each of the three games.  Adams also knocked out his league-leading 13th home run this weekend, tying him for the most of any Bluejay under Ed Servais.

BRING 'EM IN
Senior Cody Fick leads the MVC with 61 runs batted in this season, totaling five this past week.  A transfer from Jefferson College, the senior has tallied 172 RBI in his career in less than three seasons of play.  Fick ranks second in UE’s all-time list behind Pat Schulz (1990-93) who knocked in 188 in his career.

NO RUNS HERE
Redbird relief pitcher Justin Hauer did not allow an earned run in two appearances against Missouri State, striking out three over 1.1 innings of work. Hauer (2-0) currently boasts the lowest Redbird ERA (1.23) in 22 innings of work this season.

FINALLY!
Indiana State picked up the series victory over Evansville with a 4-1 win on Sunday, their first win to close out a league series since defeating Illinois State on March 27, 2010, a span of nine conference matchups.

MEDRANO HEATING UP
Kevin Medrano has rebounded from a slow start to raise his average to .335 this week, just one point out of the team lead.  Medrano scuffled through the season’s first six weeks, batting .233 at the end of March, but has since batted .418 in the 22 games since April 1 and now sits just one point out of the team batting average lead.

KICKHAM FINALLY GIVES UP EARNED RUN
It took 18 appearances, 22.2 innings and 77 days from the beginning of the season, but closer Dan Kickham finally allowed an earned run Friday at Illinois State.  Kickham entered a 6-2 game with one out in the seventh inning to face ISU home run leader Tyler McNeely and got the Bears out of that jam, but returned in the eighth with a 10-2 and yielded a run to balloon his ERA to 0.39 before MSU won 10-3.  Kickham bounced back Saturday, earning his MVC-best 10th save, tossing just one pitch to preserve a 6-3 win.

BRINGING IN THE BIG BUCKS
Saluki senior third baseman Blake Pinnon set a new career-high with six RBIs in SIU’s 11-4 win at Bradley on May 7. All six of his RBIs came in the final three innings of the game. He drove in two with a double in the seventh, plated another pair in the eighth on his second home run of the season and tacked on two more with a two-run single in the ninth. Pinnon finished the game going 4-for-5 with two runs scored. His four hits matched his career-high.

HOMETOWN HERO
Junior pitcher Charlie Lowell earned another win at Eck Stadium last Friday.  This season, he is 7-0 with a 1.18 ERA in seven starts at home.  He has pitched 45.2 innings with two complete games and 59 strikeouts.

PRETTY SAFE BET
Junior catcher Chris O’Brien had a hit in each game last week to extend his career-best hitting streak to 17 games. During the streak he is 32-for-74 (.432) with 15 runs, eight doubles, two home runs and 15 RBI.  He has hit safely in 43 of 52 games this season.

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, 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).

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
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.

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 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 adopted 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.

This week's Missouri Valley Conference Baseball Player/Pitcher of the Week are Kevin Medrano of Missouri State and Joe Bircher of Bradley.

MISSOURI VALLEY CONFERENCE PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Kevin Medrano, Jr., 2B, Missouri State
Medrano hit safely in all four games last week and led the Bears with a .438 batting average and six RBIs. The junior was also 6-for-6 on stolen bases and was perfect in the field at second base. Medrano recorded the game-winning RBI Tuesday against Missouri in a 2-for-4, two RBI, two steal effort, and had a hit and two more RBIs in MSU’s series-opening win Friday at Illinois State. Saturday, Medrano went 3-for-5 and swatted a two-run double in the seventh inning to break open a 3-2 game while adding another stolen base. Then on Sunday, Medrano reached base three times, stole three more bases and scored a run.

MISSOURI VALLEY CONFERENCE PITCHER OF THE WEEK
Joe Bircher, Jr., LHP, Bradley
Bircher (6-4) tossed his first career shutout in 2-hit fashion Friday night, blanking Southern Illinois, 9-0, in the opening game of the Missouri Valley Conference weekend series at O’Brien Field.  Bircher faced only one hitter over the minimum and no Saluki reached second base in the game that lasted only 1-hour, 45-minutes.  The 6-foot-4 left-hander struck out seven and did not walk a batter, while lowering his season ERA to 2.41.  After allowing his second hit of the game to lead off the sixth inning, Bircher responded by inducing a double play and retired the final 11 Saluki hitters in order.

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

Brian Martin (BU) - 
Martin led the Braves to their first Valley series win of the season by batting .545 with a .583 on-base percentage in the 3-game weekend set versus Southern Illinois.  He was 2-for-4 with two runs batted in and two runs scored in Friday’s 9-0 victory, then followed by going 3-for-4 with a stolen base and a run scored Saturday.  Martin ended the weekend by going 1-for-3 with a walk, a stolen base and a run scored in Sunday’s 4-0 win to wrap up the series.  Bradley’s leading hitter in 2010, Martin entered the SIU series batting just .238, but came out of the weekend with a .257 average.

Mike Gerber (CU) - Gerber led Creighton offensively on the week, going 4-for-11 from the plate in his first series against the Shockers.  Each of the true freshman’s hits were of different capacities, picking up a triple on Friday night, a single and a double on Saturday and an inside the park home run on Sunday.  He had a .909 slugging percentage on the weekend, almost 300 points higher than any other Bluejay.  Gerber has now had an extra base hit in 14 games this season, including the last four.  Gerber holds a .275 average on the season, picking up 30 hits in his rookie campaign.  He has five home runs and three triples on the year.  Creighton’s everyday centerfielder, Gerber has a perfect 1.000 fielding percentage in 65 tries.

Cody Fick (UE) - Fick led Evansville with a .588 batting average on the week, going 10-for-17 with five runs scored and five runs batted in. Fick belted three doubles, increasing his total to 18 on the season, and recorded multi-hit games in all four contests, totaling 25 multi-hit games on the year. In UE’s win over Oakland City, Fick went 2-for-3 with three RBI and a run scored, knocking in the first of the game and scoring the winning run. Fick led the Aces with four hits, an RBI, and three runs scored, including the game-winning run, in UE’s 13-inning victory over Indiana State. Fick also pitched a complete game in the rubber match with ISU, hurling all eight innings, giving up four runs, just two earned, five hits, and struck out seven. Fick raised his batting average 19 points over the week to a conference-leading .409 and also leads the Valley with 61 RBI.

Kevin Tokarski (ILS) - Tokarski led the Redbird offense against Missouri State, going 4-for-9 (.444) with a team-high five runs scored, plus two RBI. Tokarski amassed a .667 on-base percentage, thanks in part to a team-best six walks. The redshirt junior from Downers Grove, Ill., collected seven total bases, slugged .778, and hit one home run. Tokarski, who is hitting .303 this seaosn, leads the Redbirds with 21 stolen bases and 37 walks.innings of work this season.

Jon Hedges (INS) - Hedges went 6-for-14 (.429) at the plate against Evansville, leading the Sycamores with three extra-base hits, six runs batted in, a .786 slugging percentage and 11 total bases. Hedges picked up at least one hit, RBI and scored one run in every game of ISU’s weekend set with the UE, while also recording a team-high 36 putouts without an error at first base. The Indiana State junior hit his fifth home run of the season on Sunday, as he currently sits second on the team in roundtrippers.

Micah Green (WSU) - Green led the Shockers to a series win over league leader Creighton over the weekend.  He went 8-for-19 (.421) in five games last week with two runs, three doubles, a triple and seven RBI. He had hits in four of the five games last week and had an RBI in three of them.  He went 1-for-3 with an RBI in the game at Kansas and went 2-for-4 with a double in the second game against the Jayhawks.  In game two against CU, he went 2-for-3 with two RBI and a double and in game three, he went 3-for-5 with four RBI, a double and a triple.  The three hits on Sunday was a career-high.  He raised his average in Valley play to .400.   

Jonas Dufek (CU) - Dufek picked up his first win against the Shockers in three starts, posting a 7-5 win on Saturday.  The senior right hander had another solid outing, going 7.0 innings and allowing three earned runs, one walk, and striking out 12.  It marks the fourth time this season the Omaha native has struck out more than 10 and just one shy of his career record of 13 (set earlier this season in a 1-0 win over Valparaiso).  Dufek held WSU to a .269 average against, posting four scoreless innings in his seven innings of work.  The 12 strike out outing moved Dufek to a team leading 92 strike outs on the season in his 80.1 innings of work.  He holds an 8-1 record and a 2.46 ERA.  Dufek moved into the all-time Creighton charts on Saturday, jumping into a three way tie in 7th for wins in a career (20) and 10th in Strikeouts in a season (92) and strike outs in a career (209).

Josh Biggs (UE) - Biggs kept his perfect record alive this week, picking up two wins for the Aces and did not allow an earned run in the process. In UE’s, 8-1, midweek win over Oakland City, Biggs hurled the first three innings, allowing no runs, three hits, and struck out three to earn the win on UE’s staff pitching day. Biggs piloted Evansville through extra innings to a, 10-9, 13-inning Valley win over Indiana State, throwing 4.2 innings, allowing one unearned run, six hits, and struck out two. With a runner on first and the score tied, 8-8, in the bottom of the ninth, Biggs came out of the bullpen and retired his first two batters for the final outs of the frame to force extra innings. Biggs faced runners on second and third in the 12th, but bore down and got the final out. The only run the sophomore allowed was an unearned one in the 13th after the Aces had already scored two runs in the top of the inning. On the season, Biggs is 4-0 with a 2.08 ERA.

JD Learnard (ILS) - Learnard (6-2) earned the win in Illinois State’s 8-3 victory against Missouri State Sunday afternoon at Duffy Bass Field in Normal, Ill. Learnard pitched 6.1 innings, striking out two and walking four, while allowing just three runs. The Fairmount, Ill., native’s 3.88 ERA is the second-lowest among starters.

Jason Van Skike (INS) - Van Skike threw his second complete game of the season on Sunday, scattering six hits and one run to lead the Sycamores to the series victory over in-state rival Evansville. Van Skike struck out and walked four batters in the series finale, guiding ISU to their first win in the final game of a MVC weekend series since the opening set of the 2010 season. The ISU senior threw 123 pitches on Sunday while also never allowing more than five batters to come to the plate in a single inning.

Pierce Johnson (MSU) - Johnson led all MVC pitchers in wins, innings and strikeouts last week, going 2-0 with a 1.59 ERA, 14 strikeouts, and a .190 batting average against in 11.1 innings pitched. Johnson began the week with seven shutout innings against Big 12 rival Missouri, striking out eight Tigers with no walks and four hits in the win. Only one Missouri runner advanced beyond first base against Johnson. On Saturday, Johnson pitched 4.1 innings of relief to beat defending MVC champion Illinois State on the road. He entered a tie game with one out and two runners on in the fifth inning before striking out the next two Redbirds on the way to six Ks on the day. He allowed four singles in the ISU game as the Bears claimed a 6-3 win.

Cody Forsythe (SIU) - Forsythe won his fifth-straight decision on Saturday to improve to 5-0 in league play and 7-3 overall on the year. He pitched eight innings in the 11-4 win over Bradley, allowing just two earned runs. Forsythe struck out seven batters and walked only one. For the year, Forsythe has not allowed more than two walks in any of his 12 starts and he has recorded five or more strikeouts in eight of his 12 games. He has lasted eight innings or longer four times this year and owns a 1.98 ERA. With his 5-0 record in league play, Forsythe became the first Saluki pitcher since Shawn Joy in 2008 to win five league games.

Charlie Lowell (WSU) - Lowell led the Shockers to a win over league leader Creighton on Friday night.  He pitched a complete game shutout and allowed just five hits with no walks and eight strikeouts. The nine innings pitched tied his career-high and it was the first complete game shutout of his career.  He allowed just one hit through the first six innings and only one runner reached scoring position in the game and that was with two outs in the eighth.  He struck out at least one batter in seven of the nine innings.  With the win, he improved to 5-0 in Valley play with a 0.94 ERA.