Coaches Select Wichita State as Missouri Valley Conference Baseball Favorite
Wednesday, January 29, 2014
Coaches Select Wichita State as Missouri Valley Conference Baseball Favorite

ST. LOUIS – Wichita State, which returns its entire weekend pitching rotation and a wealth of depth from last year's squad, has been tabbed as the league favorite in the annual coaches' preseason poll, receiving six of eight first-place votes.

The Shockers tallied 56 points and were a slim favorite over second-place pick Missouri State (55 points), as the Bears tallied the two remaining first-place votes. Illinois State (46 points) and new league affiliate member Dallas Baptist (44 points) finished in the third and fourth positions, respectively.

Southern Illinois was selected in fifth place with 28 points, followed by Evansville (25 points) in the sixth slot. Indiana State (23 points) and Bradley (11 points) round out the final two positions in the poll. 

School (First-Place Votes)    Points
 1. Wichita State (6)    56
 2. Missouri State (2)    55
 3. Illinois State    46
 4. Dallas Baptist    44
 5. Southern Illinois    28
 6. Evansville    25
 7. Indiana State    23
 8. Bradley    11 

The Valley demonstrates a depth of talent and experience returning to the league this season.  The coaches have voted 14 players representing seven teams to the 2014 preseason all-MVC baseball squad.

Wichita State returns eight position starters and its entire weekend pitching rotation from last season's 39-28 squad that advanced to the NCAA Tournament for the 28th time in program history. Wichita State, under the direction of first year head coach Todd Butler, earned the No. 34 spot in the Collegiate Baseball Newspaper's Top-40 Preseason Poll.

Leading the way for the veteran-laden Shockers at the plate will be returning all-MVC performers Tyler Baker, Casey Gillaspie, Garrett Bayliff and Erik Harbutz. Bayliff, a senior outfielder, led the league with 91 hits last season and was second in the MVC in batting average (.379), while Gillaspie, a junior first-baseman, tallied a league-leading 11 home runs and was fifth in both RBI (46) and runs scored (49). Baker (.328, 78 hits, 15 doubles, 47 RBI), Harbutz (.282, 69 hits, 13 doubles, 32 RBI) and Micah Green (.286, 50 hits, nine doubles, 27 RBI) also return to the Wichita State lineup. Senior Cale Elam is back on the Shocker pitching staff after being named second team all-Valley last season. Elam went 7-5 with a 3.17 ERA in 17 starts, tallying 75 strikeouts in 2013. Senior reliever Aaron LaBrie (4-1, 0-83 ERA, four saves, 38 K) will lead the way out of the Wichita State bullpen, while sophomore Garrett Brummett (4-0, 1.16 ERA, 24 K) and junior A.J. Ladwig (5-6, 4.54 ERA, 68 K) also return to the Shocker pitching staff.

Missouri State is coming off its third consecutive 30-win season, as the Bears return six starters and nine pitchers from a 2013 squad that finished 31-23. Tate Matheny, the Valley's reigning Freshman of the Year, will lead the charge offensively for the Bears. Matheny led Missouri State and ranked in the league's top-10 in batting average (.336), hits (77) and total bases (105) in 2013. The Bears also return junior second baseman Eric Cheray, a first team all-MVC selection a season ago (.285, 45 hits, 27 runs, 16 RBI) and sophomore outfielder Spencer Johnson (.295, 36 hits, eight doubles, 16 RBI). On the mound, Missouri State welcomes back sophomores Jon Harris (8-2, 3.87 ERA, 61 K) and Matt Hall (5-3, 2.50 ERA, 53 K) and junior Tyler Burgess (3-1, 2.93 ERA, three saves). The Bears also get back three pitchers from injury, including Cody Schumacher, Clay Murphy (5-1, 1.37 ERA, 55 K in 2012) and Jake Powers (2-2, 4.03 ERA, 43 K in 2012).

Illinois State, the reigning Missouri Valley Conference regular-season champion, returns eight position players and 12 pitchers from last season's 39-19 squad. The Redbirds welcome back senior catcher Mike Hollenbeck (.296, 55 hits, 32 runs, 26 RBI), a first team all-MVC selection in 2013, as well as junior Brock Stewart (.330, 38 hits, 22 runs, 10 doubles, 34 RBI). On the mound, Illinois State returns junior Dan Savas, a Louisville Slugger preseason All-American, who went a perfect 10-0 last season while registering five complete games and 98 strikeouts with a 1.79 ERA. The Redbird bullpen features one of the league's best relievers in junior Jeremy Rhoades, who tallied six saves and 37 strikeouts while allowing just six earned runs in 41 innings.

Dallas Baptist enters its first season as an affiliate member of the Missouri Valley Conference after finishing 2013 with a record 30-30 (13-14 WAC, T-6th) in its one season with the Western Athletic Conference. Dan Heefner enters his seventh year at the helm of Dallas Baptist, hoping to make waves in the Valley standings after leading the Patriots to several historic milestones during his tenure at Dallas Baptist. The Patriots return five starters and six pitchers from last season and will be led offensively by sophomore Austin Listi and senior Chane Lynch. Listi, a Freshman All-American and second team all-WAC outfielder in 2013, batted .285 with 61 hits, 37 runs, 16 doubles, nine home runs and 46 RBI, while Lynch hit .275 with 33 hits, 22 runs and 15 RBI. Nash Knight (.259, 48 hits, 32 runs, 19 RBI) and Justin Wall (.244, 42 hits, 21 runs, 23 RBI) will also add firepower to the Patriot lineup. On the mound, Dallas Baptist welcomes back junior Paul Voelker (4.14 ERA, three saves, 37 K) and sophomore Joseph Shaw (3.41 ERA, four saves, 24 K). Cody Beam (5-1, 4.57 ERA, 43 K) and Cy Sneed (4-4, 4.84 ERA, 54 K), who were both part of the weekend starting rotation, are also back in the Patriots pitching contingent.

Southern Illinois returns an experienced group of players including five position starters and all but one starting pitcher from last year's squad that went 25-33 in 2013. The Salukis will have plenty of offensive punch in 2014, with four players with 55 or more hits returning to the lineup. Senior shortstop Jake Welch, an honorable mention all-MVC selection a season ago, led the team with 79 hits and 51 runs, while batting .317 with 10 doubles and 22 RBI in 2013. Matt Jones (.310, 72 hits, 35 runs, 15 doubles, 42 RBI) and Ryan Casillas (.291, 58 hits, 25 runs, 30 RBI) also return to the Saluki lineup. On the mound, a pair of seniors are back on the hill, including Todd Eaton (second team all-MVC) and Tyler Dray (honorable mention all-MVC). Eaton recorded nine saves and 28 strikeouts with a 3.68 ERA and Dray tallied 23 strikeouts and allowed just five earned runs in 27 innings pitched last season. Eaton will transition from his role as the closer to a weekend starter in 2013. Junior Sam Coonrod (3-6, 4.24 ERA, 68 K) also returns for the Salukis as part of the starting weekend rotation.

Evansville returns five position players and several key pitchers from last season's 24-34 squad. Junior Kevin Kaczmarski, a first team all-MVC outfielder in 2013, will lead the way offensively for the Purple Aces. Kaczmarski ranked in the league's top-10 in batting average (.339), slugging percentage (.504), runs (48), hits (80), doubles (15), triples (3), home runs (6) and stolen bases (15). Senior Jake Mahon (.322, 39 hits, 22 runs, 14 RBI), junior Kyle Pollock (.234, 47 hits, 27 runs, 24 RBI) and sophomore Shain Showers (.258, 49 hits, 19 runs, 20 RBI) will add to the offensive punch at the plate for the Aces. Evansville welcomes back junior lefty Kyle Freeland (4-8, 4.34 ERA, three complete games, 84 K) and senior Cole Isom (4-6, 4.57 ERA, 48 K) as part of the starting rotation. Senior reliever Sam Johns (4.97 ERA, two saves, 32 K) also returns to the Purple Aces' bullpen.

Indiana State welcomes back four position starters and eight pitchers from its 2013 team that finished 26-25. The Sycamores will be under the direction of first year head coach Mitch Hannahs, a former All-American second baseman for Indiana State. The Sycamores will be led offensively by juniors Mitch Hannahs (.309, 29 hits, 17 runs, 9 RBI) and Landon Curry (.260, 51 hits, 35 runs, 21 RBI, 19 stolen bases). Senior shortstop Tyler Wampler (.214, 33 hits, 16 runs, 11 RBI) will also add to the offensive mix for Indiana State. On the mound, the Sycamores bring back senior right-handed reliever Kurt Kudrecki (1-1, 1.57 ERA, 3 saves, 32 K), but will have to fill the void of graduated seniors Sean Manaea, Devin Moore and Tyler Fehringer.

Bradley returns five position starters and 10 pitchers from its 2013 team that finished 17-32. The Braves will be led offensively by senior Greg Partyka (.309, 55 hits, 26 runs, 16 doubles, 32 RBI), a first team all-MVC selection a season ago. Sophomore Chris Godinez (.320, 54 hits, 33 runs, 18 RBI, 11 stolen bases in 2012), who returns after missing the bulk of the 2013 season due to injury and sophomore Tyler Leffler (.311, 47 hits, 31 runs, 12 doubles, 24 RBI), a freshman All-American last season, will add to the offensive firepower for the Braves. Junior Max Murphy (.279, 51 hits, 34 runs, 11 doubles, 34 RBI) and senior Austin Jarvis (.221, 29 hits, 16 runs, 13 RBI) also return to the Bradley lineup. On the pitching side, the Braves bring back both David Koll (1-7, 5.34 ERA, 52 K in 12 starts) and John Nasshan (2-8, 6.14 ERA, 40 K in 13 starts), while sophomore lefty Brent Stong (4-3, 3.60 ERA, 42 K) also returns to the mound for Bradley.

All eight Missouri Valley Conference baseball teams begin action the third week of February, with tournament play and non-conference games, while league battles will heat up starting Friday, March 22.

Indiana State will host the 2014 Missouri Valley Conference Championship, May 22-26, in Terre Haute, Ind. All games will be played at Bob Warn Field. 

Player, School   Pos.   B/T  Yr. Hometown (Previous School)
Casey Gillaspie, Wichita State 1B S/L Jr. Omaha, Neb. (Millard North)
Chris Godinez, Bradley  2B  R/R So. Lake Bluff, Ill. (Lake Forest)
Brock Stewart, Illinois State 3B L/R Jr. Normal, Ill. (Normal West)
Jake Welch, Southern Illinois   SS  L/R Sr. Malden, Mo. (Bernie)
Tyler Baker, Wichita State C  L/R Jr. Tokepa, Kan. (Shanwee Heights)
Greg Partyka, Bradley DH  L/R Sr. Bartlett, Ill. (Bartlett) 
Jake Mahon, Evansville UT S/R Sr. Plain City, Ohio (Jonathan Alder) 
Garrett Bayliff, Wichita State OF L/L Sr. Tuttle, Okla (Tuttle) 
Kevin Kaczmarski, Evansville OF L/R Jr. Cary, Ill. (Prairie Ridge) 
Tate Matheny, Missouri State OF R/R So. St. Louis, Mo. (Westminster Christian Academy) 
Jon Harris, Missouri State SP R/R So. Florissant, Mo. (Hazelwood Central) 
Dan Savas, Illinois State SP R/R Jr. Rosemont, Ill. (Leyden) 
Aaron LaBrie, Wichita State RP L/L Sr. Sioux Falls, S.D. (Washington) 
Jeremy Rhoades, Illinois State RP R/R Jr. Wheaton, Ill. (Wheaton Warrenville South)