Baseball Weekly Notebook (May 16)
Monday, May 16, 2011

With just one weekend remaining in the regular season schedule, Creighton (12-6 MVC) and Missouri State (11-6 MVC), the top two teams in the league standings, will square off this weekend in Omaha.   

Wichita State (11-7 MVC), Illinois State (10-8 MVC) and Southern Illinois (9-9 MVC) are all within striking distance of the top half of the standings, while Evansville (7-10 MVC) and Indiana State (7-11 MVC) are also in the mix at the middle of the pack. 

Bradley (4-14 MVC) has already locked up the No. 8 seed in next week's State Farm MVC Tournament. 

Four MVC teams (Creighton, Wichita State, Illinois State and Missouri State) have already surpasses the 30-win plateau, marking the sixth straight season that four or more Valley teams have made that claim.

According to the latest RPI update from the NCAA (May 10), four Missouri Valley Conference teams are in the RPI's top-100.  Creighton leads the way at No. 42, followed by Missouri State (No. 69), Illinois State (No. 70) and Wichita State (No. 92).

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 and clicking on the banner at the top of the page or by clicking “subscribe” underneath the video player.

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 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.

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 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). 

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.

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.

Bradley's starting pitching trio of Joe Bircher, Tory Doerr and John Nasshan have been stingy in the first six innings of their six combined starts the last two weeks.  The trio has combined to allow the opposition just six runs on 16 hits in the first six innings of each of the last six games.  The trio boasts a 1.50 ERA through the first 6.0 innings of their last six combined starts.

With Creighton’s 4-0 shutout win on Saturday, head coach Ed Servais sits tied for first in wins as a head coach in Creighton baseball history, holding a 289-162 record (.642) in his eighth season as the Bluejay skipper.

Playing in their last game at Braun Stadium Sunday, UE’s seven seniors stepped it up, leading UE to a 10-1 victory over Creighton. Senior Shawn Kuester went 3-for-3 with three runs scored and an RBI, while senior Jared Baehl had two hits and three RBI, and classmate Ryan Oesterle also recorded two hits and scored two runs. Senior Cody Fick (7-3) led Evansville all around, pitching the complete game, allowing a run, just five scattered hits, five walks, while striking out five. At the plate, Fick went 2-for-4 with a double and three runs batted in. Seniors Greg Wallace and Ty Legan also recorded a hit apiece. The senior class accounted for 11 of UE’s 12 hits and eight of the 10 runs.

With Saturday’s win at Southern Illinois, the Redbirds won their 30th game of the season, giving Illinois State back-to-back 30-win seasons for the first time since 1998-99.

As the Redbirds prepare for their final four regular-season games, the Redbirds (31-16) are just four games away from tying the single-season team-wins mark (35) set by the 1999 team.  Illinois State has won more the 30 games for just the ninth time in program history.

Indiana State allowed just one extra-base hit in its three-game series at Wichita State last weekend, giving up 18 singles and one home run to the Shockers.

Missouri State earned its 30th win of the season Sunday, the 23rd time in 29 seasons under Keith Guttin that the Bears have won 30 or more games. The Bears also secured a winning conference record for the 23rd time in the last 27 years, as MSU did not have a conference affiliation during Guttin’s first two seasons.

Junior Dan Kickham saved all three Missouri State wins last week to tie Milwaukee Brewer Shaun Marcum for the school record of 13 saves in a season. Kickham has reached 13 saves in just 22 career appearances and sits in a tie for third on the school’s career saves list as well.

SIU ace Cody Forsythe is looking to go a perfect 7-0 in the Missouri Valley Conference this Thursday when he takes the hill in the first game of SIU’s final league series at Indiana State. Forsythe joined P.J. Finigan and Bryan Rueger (both in 2005) as the only Salukis to win six league games in the last 12 years. Forsythe carries a 1.02 ERA in six MVC starts and has two complete games. He has only allowed five earned runs in 44.0 innings in league play and has 34 strikeouts against just five walks.

Junior left-fielder Jordan Sivertsen has paced the Saluki offense this season and is batting a team-best .316 with 46 RBIs, 16 doubles and nine home runs. His 2011 batting average is up 86 points from what his career average was entering the year and he needs to drive in just two more runs to match his combined RBI total from his first and second seasons.

Junior catcher Chris O’Brien had a hit in each game this week to extend his career-best hitting streak to 21 games. During the streak he is 36-for-82 (.439) with 17 runs, eight doubles, two home runs and 15 RBI.  He has hit safely in 47 of 56 games this season.

Chris O’Brien now has a 21-game hitting streak which is tied for the ninth-best streak in Shocker history.  It is the longest hitting streak by a Shocker since Andy Dirks had a 30-game hitting streak in 2008.  The school record is 47 which was set by Phil Stephenson in 1981.

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 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 Scott Thornburg of Creighton and Dan Kickham of Missouri State.

Scott Thornburg, Jr., C, Creighton
Thornburg was Creighton’s hottest hitter on the week, finishing 7-for-15 (.467) from the plate, starting three of four behind the dish, the other as the designated hitter.  Thornburg had multi-hit games in three of the four, including a two-double performance at Evansville on Sunday, May 15.  The junior drove in three RBI on the week and scored two runs.  Thornburg is hitting .448 in the last 10-games, picking up a hit in 13 of his 29 at bats.  Seven of his 13 hits have been doubles.  He has driven in seven RBI in the 10-game stretch, scoring nine runs himself, while playing perfectly behind the dish with no errors in 56 chances.  He is hitting .298 on the season with a .426 slugging percentage in 94 at bats.

Dan Kickham, Jr., RHP, Missouri State
Kickham saved all three Missouri State wins last week to increase his MVC-leading save total to 13 and tie Major Leaguer Shaun Marcum’s school record for saves in a season. Kickham did allow a run Friday before retiring the next three hitters for a 5-4 victory, pitched around a hit Saturday to preserve MSU’s 2-1 win, and sat down BU’s 2-3-4 hitters in order with a pair of strikeouts Sunday as the Bears won 7-4 to earn the series sweep. Kickham’s ERA is now 0.68 on the season.

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

Cody Fick (UE) - Fick led Evansville both offensively and defensively this week, hitting .353, recording at least one hit in all four games, while also pitching a complete game win over  first-place Creighton. Fick went the distance, allowing just one run, five scattered hits, and struck out five in UE’s, 10-1, victory over the Bluejays. He also piloted the squad at the plate, going 2-for-4, including a double, a two-run scoring single in the third inning that gave Evansville the lead for good, and three runs batted in. In the Aces’ 8-3 victory over the 2011 Ohio Valley Conference champions, Austin Peay, Fick had two hits, including a first inning two-run home run, and four RBI. With seven RBI on the week, Fick moved into second place in UE’s single-season record book with 68 RBI and is eight away from the record. He is also 10 away from the career record, currently with 179 career RBI. On the season, the Freeburg, Mo. native owns a .404 batting average, 7-3 pitching record, and 2.38 ERA.

Ryan Court (ILS) - Court led Illinois State’s offense last week, going 8-for-18 (.444) with a team-best four runs and two RBI, including a home run and a double in a mid-week game against Eastern Illinois and a three-game series at Southern Illinois. On Saturday, with two outs in the ninth and ISU trailing by two runs to SIU, Court belted a two-run home run to tie the game, allowing the Redbirds to win in the 10th inning. Court amassed a .444 on-base percentage and slugged .667 during the four-game stretch, and the senior from Sleepy Hollow, Ill., collected a team-high 12 total bases. Court has the second-highest batting average on the team (.339) with a team-best 15 doubles and four triples.

Jeremy Lucas (INS) - Lucas led ISU with a .500 batting average last week, going 7-for-14 at the plate with a pair of doubles and a triple. The ISU sophomore picked up at least one hit in all four games this past week, including a perfect 3-for-3 effort at SIUE on Tuesday. Both of Lucas’ doubles came in ISU’s 6-0 victory over Wichita State on Saturday, a series where the Sycamore catcher recorded 18 putouts and three fielding assists in two games behind the plate. Lucas has been ISU’s best hitter during MVC games this season, going 24-for-67 (.358) at the plate with four doubles.

Chris O'Brien (WSU) - O’Brien led the Shockers to a series win over Indiana State.  He went 4-for-8 (.500) in four games last week with two runs.  He walked eight times and was hit by a pitch once and had a .765 on base percentage for the week.  He had a hit in each of the four games to increase his career-best hitting streak to 21 games.  On Tuesday against ORU, he went 1-for-2 with a run and three walks.  In game one against INS, he went 1-for-3 with a walk and in game two, he went 1-for-1 with three walks.  In the series finale, he went 1-for-2 with a run, a walk and a hit by pitch.  

Ty Blach (CU) - Blach recorded his best outing of the season, statistically speaking, in the 4-0 shutout win over Evansville on Saturday, May 14.  The south paw threw 7.0 innings of shutout baseball, allowing just three hits and striking out eight of the 24 batters he faced.  Blach threw a season high 122 pitches in his second win of the week, his second longest of the season (went 7.1 innings at Indiana State).  Blach also earned the win on Tuesday, May 10 in his pre-determined 2.0 innings of work against Nebraska.  The sophomore struck out four batters of the six he retired in the first two innings, allowing just one hit and not allowing a runner past second base.  The two wins on the week moved Blach to 9-1 on the season (3-1 in MVC play), becoming the first Bluejay to reach the 9-win plateau this season.  He holds a 2.53 overall ERA in his 15 starts.  Blach has struck out 76 this season, walking 24 and holding opponents to a .244 average against.  He has not allowed an earned run in 10 straight innings of work.

Kenny Long (ILS) - Long (3-1) earned the win in Illinois State’s 11-9, come-from-behind, 10-inning victory against Southern Illinois Saturday afternoon in Carbondale, Ill. Long pitched the final three shutout innings without allowing a Saluki hit, while striking out one and walking one. Long’s shutdown pitching allowed the Redbirds to win in the 10th inning. Long appeared again in Sunday’s victory at SIU, tossing one scoreless inning to secure ISU’s 8-2 win. The Fox River Grove, Ill., native, who is the all-time saves leader at Illinois State, leads the Redbirds this season with five saves, and boasts the second-lowest ERA (1.24).

Sean Manaea (INS) - Manaea tied a career-high with nine strikeouts in seven shutout innings on Saturday, leading Indiana State to a 6-0 victory on the road at Wichita State. The ISU freshman struck out at least one batter in six of his seven innings on the mound, scattering five singles during his time on the mound. Manaea did not allow a Shocker to reach third base in his seven innings in the center of the diamond, tossing 111 pitches on the afternoon. The Sycamore southpaw leads the team with 72 strikeouts in 75.1 innings this season, including 34 batters fanned in 36.1 innings during league play.

Cody Forsythe (SIU) - Forsythe won his sixth-straight game by tossing six scoreless innings in SIU’s 4-2 win over Illinois State last Friday. Forsythe had given up just three hits and thrown only 75 pitches before an hour and 22-minute delay due to lightening cut his outing short. Forsythe did not walk a single batter for the fourth time in what was his 13th start this season and he only had a three-ball count against just one of the 20 batters he faced. Not one batter reached second base when he was in the game and he only faced four batters in two of his six innings. Forsythe lowered his league-leading ERA down to 1.85 and became the first Saluki pitcher since Bryan Rueger and current SIU pitching coach P.J. Finigan in 2005 to win six league games.

Charlie Lowell (WSU) - Lowell pitched seven shutout innings against Indiana State on Friday.  He allowed just two singles while striking out nine.  He earned a no decision as the game was scoreless until the Shockers won it 1-0 in the bottom of the ninth.  He struck out at least one batter in six of seven innings and struck out the side in his final inning of work.  With the seven shutout innings, he lowered his ERA to 2.66 overall and 0.79 in Valley play.