Sunday, May 22, 2011 | Baseball
Baseball Weekly Notebook: Omaha Awaits

TOURNAMENT SET
Creighton (15-6 MVC) earned the top seed at the State Farm MVC Baseball Tournament, as the Bluejays claimed their first regular-season title since 2005. 

Wichita State (14-7 MVC) claimed the No. 2 seed after a three-game sweep of Bradley in its final weekend, while preseason favorite Illinois State (13-8 MVC) is the No. 3 seed.

Missouri State (11-9 MVC) is the No. 4 seed and will square off with fifth-seeded Southern Illinois (11-10 MVC).

Indiana State (8-13 MVC) claimed the No. 6 seed, while Evansville (7-13 MVC) and Bradley (4-17 MVC) are the seventh and eighth seeds, respectively.

CREIGHTON TO HOST
Creighton will serve as host for the 2011 State Farm Missouri Valley Conference Baseball Championship for the third time in school history, from May 24-28.  The 2011 event will be played at TD Ameritrade Park Omaha, which will also serve as the home of the Men's College World Series after a 61-year run at Johnny Rosenblatt Stadium.  The 2011 CWS will be played June 18-29.

TOURNAMENT TOP DOG
Wichita State boasts 94 MVC Tournament wins, the most in the league, and the Shockers also hold the league’s top winning percentage (.695) in tournament play.  Just one other team – Indiana State – holds an overall winning record in the MVC Tournament (58-45, .563).

BU - 44-62 (.415)
CU - 43-52-1 (.453)
UE - 20-23 (.465)
ILS - 16-31 (.340)
INS - 58-45 (.563)
MSU - 31-36 (.463)
SIU - 47-50 (.485)
WSU - 94-41-1 (.695)

CREIGHTON AS THE TOP SEED
Creighton (15-6 MVC) is the State Farm MVC Baseball Tournament’s top seed for the second time in school history.  The Bluejays were also the top seed in 2005.  Creighton holds a 4-2 record at the MVC tournament as the No. 1 seed.

TOP TWO SEEDS DOMINATE
If history is any indication, being the No. 1 seed has its benefits as more MVC Tournament champions (14) have come from the top spot than any other seed dating back to 1981.  The No. 2 seed has claimed nine tournament titles, while no other seed has won more than three championships.

The lowest seed to ever win the tournament was the sixth seed, in 1994 by Illinois State.

30-WIN TEAMS
Four Missouri Valley Conference teams – Creighton, Illinois State, Missouri State and Wichita State – have passed the 30-win threshold, marking the sixth-straight season in which at least four MVC teams have reached 30 wins. 

Evansville and Indiana State can join the 30-win club with two and four victories, respectively, at this week’s State Farm MVC Baseball Championship.

DEFENDING?
Illinois State looks to defend its title at the 2011 State Farm MVC Baseball Championship for the first time ever.  Teams have won back-to-back titles seven times in league history, including two three-peats and one four-peat – Indiana State (83-84); Wichita State (87-88; 91-92-93; 98-99-00; 02-03-04-05; 08-09); Missouri State (96-97).

WATCH TOURNAMENT ON MVC LIVE
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.

ON THE TUBE
What:  State Farm MVC Baseball Championship
When:  Sat., May 28 – 7:00 p.m. Central
Where:  TD Ameritrade Park Omaha (24,000 Capacity) – Omaha, Nebraska
Clearances:  Live at 7:00 p.m. Central on May 28 on Fox Sports Midwest (3.2 million homes), Fox Sports Indiana (1.2 million homes), Fox Sports Kansas City (1.6 million homes), Fox College Sports (56 million digital homes), DirecTV (Channel 671), Dish Network (Channel 418) and AT&T U-Verse (Channel 748).  The game will be carried on a tape-delay basis at 1 a.m. on May 29 by Comcast SportsNet Chicago (4.759 million homes).

TEAMS WITH 10 LEAGUE WINS
For just the third time in league history when only eight teams sponsored baseball, at least five of those eight teams registered a minimum of 10 conference wins.  Five teams also won 10+ Valley games in 1993 and 2010.

HOST TEAM SUCCESS
Dating back to 1981, host institutions have been the tournament champion 13 times in 30 years, while they have been the tournament runner-up an additional six times, most recently last season (Wichita State).  Wichita State is the only tournament host to have ever won at its home field.
 
15 VALLEY WINS
After winning only nine league games in 2010, Creighton (15-6 MVC) registered 15 conference victories this season.  Wichita State has the longest streak of winning at least 15 MVC games for 18 straight seasons from 1991-2008.  Missouri State has the next longest streak of 15-plus conference games, in 10 straight seasons (1995-04).  Indiana State (2000-03) and Southern Illinois (2002-05) have tallied 15 or more league wins in four consecutive seasons.  Evansville had three consecutive seasons of 15 or more Valley wins (1999-01), while Creighton has won at least 15 MVC games in back-to-back seasons four times (1991-92; 1999-00; 2004-05; 2007-08).  Bradley and Illinois State have never won 15 or more league games in consecutive seasons.

FOUR IN RPI's TOP-80
According to the latest RPI update from WarrenNolan.com (May 22), four Missouri Valley Conference teams are in the RPI's top-80.  Creighton leads the way at No. 37, followed by Illinois State (No. 54), Missouri State (No. 64) and Wichita State (No. 79).

VALLEY RPI RANKS No. 7
According to the latest RPI update from WarrenNolan.com (May 22), the Missouri Valley Conference ranks No. 7 amongst 32 leagues.  Four BCS conferences (SEC, ACC, Big 12 and Pac 10) hold the top four positions, while the Sun Belt and Conference USA are the only non-BCS leagues ahead of the MVC.

AGAINST THE FIELD
The MVC holds a winning record against 14 leagues in non-conference play (Atlantic-10, Big Ten, 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 three (ACC, Atlantic Sun and Sun Belt). 

AGAINST THE 2010 NCAA FIELD
The Valley has won 21 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 seven wins against the 2010 NCAA field, including two each over Oregon and Arizona and one each over Oral Roberts, Hawaii and Kansas State.  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 7-9 record against top-25 teams so far this season, with six of the seven 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).  Missouri State has the leagues' only other top-25 victory, over No. 22 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 four (Big East, Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac-10) and an even .500 record against another (ACC). 

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.

WITH A CHERRY ON TOP
Ed Servais became Creighton's winningest head coach in program history with the win at Iowa on Tuesday.  He now sits at 293-162 overall.

NOT TOO SHABBY
Creighton won its first MVC regular-season title since the 2005 season with a sweep of Missouri State last weekend.  The Jays have compiled a 39-13 overall record, 15-6 in Valley play this season.  It is the second best win percentage heading into postseason play in school history, with the 2007 team holding a 39-12 record.

35 AND COUNTING
With Sunday’s win at Southern Illinois, the Redbirds won their 35th game of the season, tying the single-season wins mark set by the 1999 team. Illinois State has won more than 30 games for just the ninth time in program history.

THE MAINES EVENT
With a win against Evansville Thursday night, Corey Maines improved to 9-3, lifting the senior right-hander into second on the single-season wins list, tied with Rich Gordon (1969) and Steve Hecker (2001).  Maines is also tied with Todd Keck (1993-96) with 52 career-starts.

MR. CONSISTENT
Junior catcher Chris O’Brien had a hit in each game last week to extend his career-best hitting streak to 24 games. During the streak he is 41-for-94 (.436) with 20 runs, eight doubles, four home runs and 19 RBI.  He has hit safely in 50 of 60 games this season.

MORE ON THE STREAK
Chris O’Brien now has a 24-game hitting streak which is the seventh-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.

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.  

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 Jeremy Lucas of Indiana State and Clay Murphy of Missouri State.

MISSOURI VALLEY CONFERENCE PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Jeremy Lucas, So., C, Indiana State
Lucas was a tough out at the plate against Southern Illinois, going 8-for-12 (.667 batting average) with a double, home run and five runs batted in. The ISU sophomore picked up hits in all three games of the series, starting the set with a perfect 3-for-3 effort on Thursday. Lucas finished the regular season on a strong note, going 4-for-5 with four RBIs, leading the team for the series with a 1.000 slugging percentage and a .692 on-base percentage. The Sycamore catcher also played perfect defense in his two games in the field, racking up nine putouts and a pair of fielding assists. Lucas has been ISU’s best player in conference play this season, hitting .405 (32-for-79) with five doubles, two home runs and 13 RBIs.

MISSOURI VALLEY CONFERENCE PITCHER OF THE WEEK
Clay Murphy, So., RHP, Missouri State
In the MVC’s only game against a ranked team last week, Clay Murphy fired eight shutout innings, struck out 10 and allowed just three hits to 22nd-ranked Oklahoma State. The Cowboys entered the contest batting .299 as a team, but Murphy took a no-hitter into the fifth and did not allow a runner beyond first base until the seventh. Murphy’s 10 strikeouts combined with 11 ground ball outs accounted for 21 of 24 outs in the game. Murphy had a strike out in six of eight innings and multiple Ks three times while leaving the game with a 3-0 lead after the eighth. The Bears won 4-3 after the bullpen allowed three runs in the ninth.

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

John Nasshan (BU) - Nasshan (3-6) was the tough-luck loser in just the third 1-0 game in Bradley's history at O'Brien Field.  After giving up two hits, Nasshan allowed the game's only run on a first-inning sacrifice fly, then did not allow another during the rest of his 8.1 innings.  The two hits allowed were the fewest Nasshan has allowed in a start in his 2-year Bradley career.

Chance Ross (CU) - Ross played an integral part in Creighton’s MVC regular season title run, knocking in three RBI in the three game sweep of Missouri State.  The everyday third baseman drove in the third run in the Thursday series opener, which proved to be the winning run, and then had the game-winning RBI with a single in the Saturday game, giving Creighton the MVC crown outright.  Ross hit .250 on the week, with a double and a run scored.  He also picked up a sacrifice bunt and sacrifice hit in the four game week.  On the season he is hitting .223 with 21 runs driven in and 21 runs scored.

Brock Stewart (ILS) - Stewart led Illinois State’s offense last week, going 6-for-14 (.429) with a team-best five RBI and three runs, including a team-best six doubles in four games during a non-conference matchup at Western Illinois and a three-game series against Evansville. Stewart amassed a .467 on-base percentage and slugged a team-high .857 during the four-game stretch, plus he did not commit an error in right field.

Austin Montgomery (SIU) - Montgomery led SIU in the last week of the regular season by batting .467 and he ends the regular season with a career-high seven-game hitting streak. Montgomery hit three doubles on the week when he had just five in his first 36 games on the year. He also hit his first career triple on Tuesday at Saint Louis, scored three runs and drove in four. All four of his RBIs came in Sunday’s 9-7 win at Indiana State and it set a new career-high for the sophomore from Marion, Ill. Three of those RBIs came on a bases loaded, two-out double in the second inning. In the first game of the Indiana State series, Montgomery was 3-for-4 with a career-high two doubles.

Chris O'Brien (WSU) - O’Brien led the Shockers to four wins last week including a series sweep at Bradley.  He went 5-for-12 (.417) with three runs, two home runs, four RBI and two walks. He pinch hit in the Shockers’ extra-inning victory over Kansas State on Tuesday and drew a walk.  Then he had a hit in each game at Bradley to increase his hitting streak to a career-best 24 games.  In game one against the Braves, he went 3-for-5 with two RBI and a home run.  In the second game, he went 1-for-4 with two RBI and a home run and in game three he went 1-for-3.  He also had a perfect fielding percentage in 29 total chances and threw out three runners on the base paths. 

Kurt Spomer (CU) - Spomer has emerged as one of the top closers in the Valley this season, sitting in second in the league in saves with 10.  In play last week, Spomer picked up three saves in his three appearances, throwing 3.1 innings and not allowing a run.  The right hander gave up just two hits while striking out a pair and held opponents to a .154 average against.  Spomer has lowered his season ERA to 2.13 in 29 appearances, giving up just 10 earned runs on the season in 42.1 innings of work.  He is holding opponents to a .195 average against and has allowed just two runs in his last 16 appearances out of the bullpen. 

Kenny Long (ILS) - Long (3-1) appeared in all four of Illinois State’s games last week, totaling 4.2 innings of shutout relief (0.00 ERA), striking out four without issuing a walk and limiting opposing hitters to .071. Long earned the save in ISU’s 4-3 victory over Evansville Sunday afternoon at Duffy Bass Field in Normal, Ill. The Fox River Grove, Ill., native, who is the all-time saves leader at Illinois State, leads the Redbirds this season with six saves, and boasts the second-lowest ERA (1.07).

Colin Rea (INS) - Rea turned in his second straight strong performance on Thursday against Southern Illinois, allowing just one run over seven innings in Indiana State’s 4-1 series-opening victory. The ISU junior struck out a pair of batters in his seven innings, allowing no walks for the first time this season. Rea has been dominant for the Sycamores in his past two outings, allowing just one run in his last 14.1 innings on the mound.

Andrew Bever (SIU) - Bever won his first Missouri Valley Conference game on Sunday by leading the Salukis to a 9-7 win. He threw 5.0 innings and only allowed four hits and one run. Bever tied his career-high with six strikeouts in the game. The right-hander had been SIU’s midweek starter all year, but switched to the Sunday starter for the last two weeks of the regular season. His start this past Saturday was just his second MVC start of his career. He has a 5-5 record on the year with a 3.42 ERA. Bever has 44 strikeouts against 26 walks and opposing batters are hitting .250 off of him.

Josh Smith (WSU) - Smith pitched a career-high nine innings in a 1-0 victory over Bradley in the regular-season finale.  He allowed just five singles in the game with one walk and tied his career-high with seven strikeouts.  It was the first shutout of his career.  He allowed just two baserunners into scoring position in the game and allowed multiple baserunners in an inning just once.  He retired the final eight batters of the game including striking out two in the ninth.  With the win, he improved to 7-3 overall and lowered his ERA to 3.12.