ST. LOUIS – Missouri State, which returns a dominating young pitching staff 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 Bears tallied 60 points and were a sound favorite over second-place pick Wichita State (47 points). Illinois State and Indiana State both received 45 points to finish in the third position.
Southern Illinois was selected in fifth place with 36 points, followed by Bradley (21 points) in the sixth slot. Creighton (18 points) and Evansville (16 points) round out the final two positions in the poll.
The Valley demonstrates a depth of talent and experience returning to the league this season. The coaches have voted 14 players representing six teams to the 2013 preseason all-MVC baseball squad.
Missouri State returns five position starters and nine pitchers from last season's 40-22 squad that advanced to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2003. The Bears also earned the No. 31 spot in the Collegiate Baseball Newspaper's Top-40 Preseason Poll. Leading the way for the veteran-laden Bears will be returning all-MVC performers Nick Petree, Tyler Burgess, Luke Voit, Keenen Maddox and Cody Schumacher. Voit (C) is the Bears' top returner in hits (74), RBI (46), runs (40) and doubles (14), while Maddox (OF) brings back Missouri State's highest batting average (.324) and home runs (8). The Bears' pitching staff returns both the reigning MVC Pitcher and Freshman of the Year in right-handed Petree and lefty closer Burgess. Petree led the league with 10 wins and a 1.01 ERA, while Burgess tallied 11 saves with a 2.08 ERA. Also back on the mound are Cody Schumacher (8-1, 3.71 ERA, 96 K), Clay Murphy (5-1, 1.37 ERA, 55 K) and Grant Gordon (6-3, 3.28 ERA, 43 K).
Wichita State returns six starters and eight pitchers from a 2012 squad that went 35-25 and earned the No. 32 spot in the Collegiate Baseball Newspaper's Top-40 Preseason Poll. First-team all-Valley selection Johnny Coy will lead the way at the plate for the Shockers, tallying a league-leading 63 RBI last season, including 78 hits, 17 doubles, nine home runs and a .555 slugging percentage. Dayne Parker (61 hits, 13 doubles, 28 RBI), Casey Gillaspie (59 hits, 10 doubles, eight home runs, 32 RBI) and Erik Harbutz (56 hits, 11 doubles, 31 RBI) also return to the Wichita State lineup. Junior Cale Elam is back on the Shocker pitching staff after being named second team all-Valley last season. Elam went 6-4 with a 2.25 ERA, and had nine saves and 43 strikeouts in 44 innings pitched in 2012. After serving as the closer the last two seasons, Elam is expected to move into the starting rotation in 2013. Kris Gardner (5-2, 2.66 ERA, 44 K) and Albert Minnis (4-4, 3.82 ERA, 52 K) also return to the Shocker pitching staff.
Illinois State returns six starters and seven pitchers from last season's 33-19 squad that finished fourth in the league standings. The Redbirds will be led offensively by seniors Zac Johnson (3B) and Eric Aguilera (OF), both first team all-MVC selections a season ago. Johnson hit .323 with six home runs and a team-best 15 doubles in 2012, while Aguilera hit .330 with a team-leading seven home runs. Brett Kay (.269, 36 hits, 16 RBI, 14 SB), Chad Hinshaw (.248, 39 hits, nine doubles, 23 SB) and Mike Hollenbeck (.299, 53 hits, 10 doubles, 39 RBI) will also add firepower to the Redbird lineup. On the mound, Illinois State welcomes back JD Learnard from injury (8-2, 4.04 ERA in 2011), while Chris Razo (7-4, 4.50 ERA, 73 K), Dylan Craig (8-4, 4.84 ERA, 54 K) and Brad Sorkin (4-3, 4.31 ERA, 44 K) also return for the Redbirds.
Indiana State, the reigning Missouri Valley Conference regular-season champion, returns five starters and seven pitchers from last season's 41-19 squad that earned an at-large berth to the NCAA Tournament. The Sycamores welcome back first team all-MVC outfielder Robby Ort (.291, 69 hits, 20 doubles, 7 home runs, 54 RBI), sophomore Landon Curry (.322, 68 hits, 27 RBI, 16 SB), senior Koby Kraemer (.262, 59 hits, 10 doubles, 34 RBI) and junior Tyler Wampler (.250, 52 hits, six doubles, 25 RBI). Junior Sean Manaea (5-3, 3.34 ERA, 115 K, .248 Opp. BA) will lead the way on the mound for Indiana State, with Devin Moore (4-2, 3.69 ERA, 31 K) also returning to the hill for the Sycamores.
Southern Illinois returns an experienced group of players including six position starters and two starting pitchers from last year's squad that went 31-28 and made a run to the MVC Tournament title game. The Salukis welcome three players who bat over .300 in 2012, including Austin Montgomery (.332, 80 hits, 16 doubles, seven home runs, 55 RBI), Jake Welch (.308, 73 hits, 14 doubles, five triples, 33 RBI, 16 SB) and Rennie Troggio (.303, 47 hits, 21 RBI). Brock Harding (.286, 52 hits, eight doubles 20 RBI) and Donny Duschinsky (.264, 60 hits, 14 doubles, six homeruns, 35 RBI) also return to the Saluki lineup. On the mound, senior Cody Forsythe, a second team all-MVC selection a season ago, will lead the way for the Salukis. Forsythe (5-4, 3.10 ERA, 84 K) will be joined by sophomore starter Sam Coonrod (3-5, 4.64 ERA, 54 K) and junior right-handed closer Todd Eaton (3-0, 2.23 ERA, nine saves, 39 K).
Bradley welcomes back six position starters and seven pitchers from its 2012 team that finished 27-27-1. The Braves will be led offensively by a pair of sophomores that were freshmen All-Americans last season in Chris Godinez (2B) and Max Murphy (OF). Godinez (.320, 54 hits, six doubles, 11 SB) and Murphy (.285, 57 hits, 11 doubles, 10 home runs, 45 RBI) will be joined by senior Mike Tauchman (.305, 50 hits, 11 doubles, 23 RBI) and junior Greg Partyka (.282, 58 hits, 12 doubles, 10 home runs, 45 RBI) as the most dynamic forces at the plate. The Braves graduated all three starting pitchers from a season ago and will look to John Nasshan (2-2, 6.35 ERA, 16 K) as the main cog in the Bradley pitching rotation.
Creighton brings back five starters from last year's squad that made a surprise run to capture the MVC Tournament title and earn a second-straight NCAA Tournament berth. The Bluejay offense will by keyed by Brad McKewon (.256, 45 hits, six doubles, 18 RBI), Mike Gerber (.246, 50 hits, 11 doubles, 36 RBI) and Alex Staehely (.207, 43 hits, eight doubles, 20 RBI). Creighton will feature several new arms on the mound after losing most of its starting rotation to graduation, while senior Mark Winkelman returns to anchor the bullpen (2-1, 2.57 ERA, 27 K). Coach Servais' team will once again be one of the nation's best defensive teams.
Evansville returns five position players and its entire starting pitching rotation from last season's 32-27 squad. The Purple Aces will have plenty of offensive punch in 2013, with four players with 55 or more hits returning to the lineup. Sophomores Kevin Kaczmarski (.303, 61 hits, 13 doubles, five triples, 33 RBI, 13 SB) and Kyle Pollock (.275, 60 hits, nine doubles, 27 RBI) will be joined by senior Jason Hockemeyer (.306, 64 hits, nine doubles, five triples, 29 RBI) and junior Jake Mahon (.272, 55 hits, 10 doubles, 43 RBI). Evansville returns four pitchers that started 12+ games, including Ryan Billo (8-1, 2.28 ERA, 42 K), Kyle Lloyd (6-3, 3.01 ERA, 58 K), Kyle Freeland (4-5, 4.55 ERA, 70 K) and Cole Isom (2-9, 5.27 ERA, 65 K), while Josh Biggs (4-3, 3.93 ERA, six saves) is the top man out of the bullpen.
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.
Illinois State will host the 2013 Missouri Valley Conference Championship, May 21-25, in Normal, Ill. All games will be played at Duffy Bass Field.