2013 Preview – The Ohio Valley Conference

By Eric Sorenson. Posted on February 6th, 2013 in 2013 National Preview, Ohio Valley
 

2012 CONFERENCE ISR: 20

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HOW THEY’LL FINISH IN 2013:

1- Belmont

2- Austin Peay

3- Eastern Illinois

4- Eastern Kentucky

5- Morehead State

6- Jacksonville State

7- Southeast Missouri State

8- Tennessee Tech

9- SIU-Edwardsville

10- Murray State

11- Tennessee-Martin

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THE LOWDOWN.

It’s a whole new ball game people. Yep, there is a new sheriff in town and it’s initials are B.U. The Belmont Bruins will carpetbag their way into the OVC and could come away with a conference title in year one. You think the other 10 teams will stand for this? Hell no. Look for NCAA vets Austin Peay, along with the Eastern boys from Illinois and Kentucky to be pissed enough to try to make life a living hell for them. Morehead State could join the fray with a lot coming back this season, including saves master Matt Duncan. Also, despite some personnel losses, never count out Jacksonville State, who has a knack of playing their best ball when the expectations are lower.

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BREAKTHROUGH TEAM:

- Belmont.

These guys are going to make a hell of an impact this season. Mark the words here. I had the Bruins rated at No. 57 nationally, which is 91 spots better than No. 2 Austin Peay. Yes, these guys could be THIS good, comparatively speaking. (But put an asterisk next to that statement)

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TRENDING DOWN:

- Austin Peay.

I know, I know, believe me, this is a precipitous fall here. I’m just saying that the Governors won’t finish in the top 100 of the ISR this time. They’ll still challenge for the OVC title, but there will be no margin for error this time. But just by typing that I’m sure I just ensured the Govs will get angry and be ready to stuff it in my bald-headed face.

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BIGGEST CLEATS TO FILL:

- Trenton Moses, OF, SEMO

The Southeasterners will certainly miss having the league’s top hitter at .406. But Moses also had a remarkable 41 walks last season, which set the tone for an offense that was pretty weak beyond him. SEMO hit .282 as a team but Moses was the straw that stirred the drink.

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BEST PLAYER:

- Jordan Hankins, 2B, Austin Peay

APU was second in the OVC with  61 home runs as a team and Hankins accounted for 10 of them, while hitting .336, while also finishing third in the loop with 39 walks. Hankins is also the returning RBI champeen of the conference, having accounted for 66 runs last season.

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BEST PITCHER:

- Chase Brookshire, LHP, Belmont.

Teams with James Buckelew to give the Bruins a pair of lefty studs who both posted 2.45 ERAs last season. Brookshire held opposing batters to a .217 average and went 8-4.

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IMPACT NEWCOMER:

- Lee Ridenour, RHP, Austin Peay

A J.C. All American at Johnson County CC in Kansas, the Govs coaching staff thinks he’ll have a chance to start on the weekends right away and team with Casey Delgado to form a really good Friday-Saturday starters combo.

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STEAL A LEAR JET FOR…

- Belmont at Austin Peay, April 19-21.

This will be BU’s official “Welcome to the OVC” party, taking on an APSU team which has gone 18-5 at home the last two seasons in conference play. The fate of the regular season title could be tilted on this weekend.

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CAPSULES…

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- AUSTIN PEAY (40-24, 19-7)

2012 ISR: 105

Starters Returning: 6

Weekend Starters: 2

Mid-Week Starters: 0

Key Relievers (15+inns.): 2

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All Conference Candidates:

2B Jordan Hankins (.336-10-66)

SS Reed Harper (.327-3-36, 10SBs)

RHP Casey Delgado (9-4, 5.59)

OF Cody Hudson (.300-6-36)

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NOTES:

- Using the parlance of the day, the Governors got re-elected. Yep, and it may not have been a landslide or anything, but they got the best of the Ohio Valley by tying for the regular season crown with Eastern Kentucky, winning the OVC tournament title, eliminating Cal State Fullerton and then pushing all the way to the Eugene Regional championship round before succumbing to host team Oregon. Not freaking’ bad.

- Though it’s not a good thing, you can almost understand APU’s tough beginning they experienced in 2012 where the Govs started out with a bruise-filled 11-10 mark prior to delving into OVC play. That’s just kind of the lay of the land for teams in cooler climates who have a lot of new pitchers to work into shape. And 2013 could be more of the same as the Governors have just four pitchers with more than 15 innings of work returning this season, including weekend starters Ryan Quick (5-2, 4.63) and Casey Delgado, who had 29 starts between them in 2012.

- There isn’t a lot of returnees to the bullpen, which will be in need of a major overhaul this season, but the Govs will have leaning posts like righties Tyler Rogers (4-4, 2.26) and Kacy Kemmer (2-1, 3.35), who combined for 63 appearances last season and are very capable of putting the clamps on anyone in the OVC… and beyond.

- This 2013 edition of Governors Baseball will be a decidedly heavy junior-senior based squad. Three of the four pitchers coming back will be seniors, with Quick being the lone junior. In the field, SS Reed Harper, who was named the No. 2 professional prospect in the Coastal Plains League last summer, is a senior and could be ready for big things in 2013. His double-play partner in crime is 2B Jordan Hankins who is a junior with the most pop in his bat, hitting 10 dingers and 66 RBI, both 2nd best on the 2012 squad behind the departed Greg Bachman.

- Speaking of Harper and Hankins, those two will be two main cogs in the defense that comes back to the dirtbag crew. Add in a pair of rising junior catchers in P.J. Torres (.254-4-19) and Matt Wollenzin (.209-3-17), who both have good arms from the crouch position and lots of power potential in their bats.

- Longtime Peay head coach Gary McClure has a real ace in the hole in the form of RHP Lee Ridenour, who transferred in from Kansas/Johnson County CC, and could be in line to become the No. 1 starter with his low 90s heat and bulldog disposition. If he lives up to even half the hype, he’ll be a boon for APU in the spring.

- Austin Peay brought in the best recruiting class in the Ohio Valley and adds a few more stud arms for the bump in the forms of LHP Zach Hall, a soudly-built southpaw  who transferred in from Parkland College, and RHP Jared Carkuff, who is a slimly-framed 6’4″, 158-pound wisp with the ability to throw hostile projectiles. Both kids come to campus with the ability to run their fastballs up to the low-90s heat. If they can acclimate quickly this will be an APU team worth watching from pitch 1 onward.

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- BELMONT (38-26, 17-13)

2012 ISR: 72

Starters Returning: 7

Weekend Starters: 2

Mid-Week Starters: 1

Key Relievers (15+inns.): 2

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All Conference Candidates:

1B Judah Akers (.336-3-36)

OF Drew Turner (.298-2-24, 17SBs)

3B Greg Brody (.278-4-32, 10SBs)

LHP James Buckelew (7-1, 2.45, .248OBA)

LHP Chase Brookshire (8-4, 2.45, .217OBA)

LHP Dan Ludwig (5-5, 3.49, .251OBA)

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NOTES:

- Man alive! These dudes have been playin’ some ball, ya’ think? The Bruins have won 38 and 39 games the last two seasons, including last year’s trip through the Atlantic Sun Conference tournament and to the NCAA Regionals. And despite losing games to Oregon State and UL-Monroe, both games were fiercely close and could’ve gone either way.

- This year, the Bruins will move into the Ohio Valley Conference and should be considered among the pool of favorites right off the bat.

- Belmont could possibly have the best left-handed brigade of pitching returning in the country, with weekend starters James Buckelew and Chase Brookshire and midweek starter Dan Ludwig. But losing Garrett Fanchier as the teams rock-solid closer will leave a big hole in the pitching staff. Some new arms will have to acclimate quickly.

- Led by 1B Judah Akers and 3B Matt Beaty (.256-7-46), four-fifths of the infield returns for 2013 off a team which fielded at a very good .975 percentage.

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- EASTERN ILLINOIS (29-29, 15-11)

2012 ISR: 174

Starters Returning: 5

Weekend Starters: 2

Mid-Week Starters: 1

Key Relievers (15+inns.): 3

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All Conference Candidates:

RHP Troy Barton (9-5, 3.20)

INF Brant Valach (.314)

OF Caleb Howell (.316)

OF Nick Priessman (.290-5-20)

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NOTES:

- For the second straight season the Panthers had the best pitching staff in the OVC in 2012, leading the loop with a 4.14 team ERA. The good side of that is they return most of their arms from a that unit. Troy Barton and Christian Slaznik are the weekend returnees and will have to make up for the loss of Friday ace Mike Hoekstra, who had 16 starts and 110 innings of work. Last year’s midweek starter Andrew Grahn (0-6, 6.75) could move into a Sunday spot, or it could fall to fellow soph Matt Borens (1-0, 5.70) who the coaches feel could be ready for a breakout season.

- The offense will lose a lot of punch from 2012′s .278 unit. The top two hitters are gone in T.J. McManus and Ryan Dineen, who went .358 and .335 and combined for 16 home runs. The biggest loss could be the powerstick of Ben Thoma, who blasted 16 dingers.

- Look for an immediate impact from JC transfer Treysen Vavra, who comes from Madison JC in Wisconsin and could man an infield position right away. The coaches are geeked over Vavra’s disciplined bat with occasional power and could have him take over a spot in the middle of the order.

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- EASTERN KENTUCKY (31-23, 19-7)

2012 ISR: 133

Starters Returning: 4

Weekend Starters: 1

Mid-Week Starters: 1

Key Relievers (15+inns.): 6

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All Conference Candidates:

RHP Anthony Bazzani (1-1, 3.40, 8svs)

LHP Shane Grimm (6-4, 3.14, 2nd team All-OVC)

OF Austin Grisham (.320-3-31)

3B Bryan Soloman (.266-14-46)

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NOTES:

- It was a good and bad thing for EKU in 2012. The Colonels went from 21-36 in 2011 to their 16th Ohio Valley Championship in 2012. But at the same time, they went 1-2 vs. co-champion Austin Peay and then faceplanted at 0-2 in the OVC tournament, giving them no hopes of making their first NCAA tournament since 1989.

- After that weekend loss at APU, the Colonels became one of the hottest teams in the country, going 14-2 down the stretch. If EKU can match that kind of intensity this season, it’ll be a special year in Richmond.

- Although they’ll miss innings-leader Matt Harris and his 15 starts and 1st team All-OVC reliever Matt Fyffe, who won nine games, most every other pitcher of note returns including seniors Shane Grimm, who had 13 starts, and Anthony Bazzani, who returns for his fourth season despite getting drafted in the 31st round of the draft last summer and looks likely to move into a weekend starting role.

- Two additional pitchers to keep an eye on this spring will be RHP Chase Greene (1-2, 8.49) and Ben Gullo (0-0, 12.15), who both had poor numbers last season but they also had bang-em-up seasons in the California League and the Midwest Collegiate League last summer. If they can recapture that summer magic like Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta in “Grease” then it could make a huge difference for the Colonels in 2013.

- Obviously the biggest loss to the roster is All American shortstop Richie Rodriguez, who was drafted in the 9th round of the MLB draft and hit .377 with 14 home runs last season. They also lost 2B Dustin Dunlop, who was 2nd team All-OVC. They’ll be irreplaceable but the incoming class of recruits has some punch to it and should make an immediate impact. Watch for infielder Doug Teagarden, who has a solid left-handed powerboat for the middle of the lineup, and OF Kyle Nowlin, who was the Cincinnati Player of the Year.

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- JACKSONVILLE STATE (28-30, 17-10)

2012 ISR: 182

Starters Returning: 3

Weekend Starters: 1

Mid-Week Starters: 1

Key Relievers (15+inns.): 3

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All Conference Candidates:

RHP Hunter Rivers (6-3, 4.41)

RHP Travis Stout (5-1, 4.44)

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NOTES:

- The Gamecocks resembled a cold-weather team in limping out to a 2-14 start to last year’s campaign. And a lot of those losses were by pretty hearty margins too. But JSU began to turn things around come conference play, going 14-7 in their first seven weekends, all of which they went 2-up, 1-down in.

- It might be a little bit more of a rebuilding season for coach Jim Case and his staff, with all the turnover the ‘Cocks will have in the starting lineup and on the mound. The biggest losses are the fact that the top six hitters on the stat sheet and also two of the three weekend starters on the mound have all moved. on.

- The other big loss is Todd Hornsby, who made 31 appearances and secured 12 saves along with having the best ERA on the staff at 2.80.

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- MOREHEAD STATE (28-27, 13-14)

2012 ISR: 195

Starters Returning: 6

Weekend Starters: 3

Mid-Week Starters: 0

Key Relievers (15+inns.): 3

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All Conference Candidates:

RHP Aaron Goe (6-5, 4.20)

RHP Matt Duncan (2-1, 2.45, 13svs)

DH Nick Duff (.315-6-34)

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NOTES:

- Very quietly, the Eagles were one of the biggest turnaround stories in the country last season. People probably didn’t realize that MSU went a pathetic 10-39 (No. 282 ISR ranking) in 2011 before turning things around into a winning record (and 195 ISR) in 2012. And it could’ve been even better had they not run out of gas, going 4-12 down the stretch of the season, including an 0-2 showing in the OVC tournament.

- A full 48 of MSU’s 55 starting assignments on the mound return to the team for 2013, headed by the right-left combo of Aaron Goe and Noah Smallwood (3-4, 5.30), who both started 15 games. They’ll also have nine-game starter Garrick Whittle (1-5, 7.50) and seven-game starter Blake Smith (4-2, 7.05) to finish weekends.

- The best news of all might be the fact that Matt Duncan, the most effective arm on the roster, returns for his senior year after posting 13 saves a year ago and holding opponents to a microscopic .220 batting average. Fellow senior Morgan Cirbo (5-3, 3.43) also returns as the primary set-up guy after making 29 appearances last season.

- Morehead has a good core of experience back in the order too as three of the top four batters return in Chase Greenwell (.338), Taylor Pickens (.332-5-25) and Nick Duff, two seniors and a redshirt junior. The offense will miss a pair of thundersticks in top hitter Andrew Deeds and Luke Bainer, who both hit seven yard calls and 42RBI last season.  So there will be a lot less power in the order, but experience and maybe a bit more foot speed will make up for it.

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- MURRAY STATE (23-33, 8-19)

2012 ISR: 206

Starters Returning: 6

Weekend Starters: 1

Mid-Week Starters: 2

Key Relievers (15+inns.): 3

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All Conference Candidates:

1B Mike Kozlowski (.306-2-39)

OF Ty Stetson (.300, 5triples)

RHP Will Handlin (5-3, 3.56, 4svs)

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NOTES:

- During their 18-17 start to last season the Racers pulled off a number of impressive wins and near-misses, including winning two of three at Southern Miss (??? yes, that actually happened), beating NCAA-bound teams like Valparaiso, Belmont and Austin Peay, and having a few one-run losses to teams like Kentucky and Austin Peay again

- Yet still, the Thorobreds finished with a 5-16 skid, securing a second-to-last place finish in the OVC and they still have had just one winning season since 2001.

- Of the six returning pitchers from a year ago shown above, Handlin is the only one with a sub-5.00 ERA, so there will need to be some serious improving to be done for this coming spring.

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- SIU-EDWARDSVILLE (27-28, 13-14)

2012 ISR: 183

Starters Returning: 5

Weekend Starters: 2

Mid-Week Starters: 1

Key Relievers (15+inns.): 3

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All Conference Candidates:

1B Joel Greatting (.304-8-40)

Devin Caldwell (.266-7-31)

RHP Travis Felax (6-5, 3.67)

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NOTES:

- Tony Stoecklin was named the “acting head coach” after former head man Gary Collins moved up to another position in the SIUE athletic department. Stoecklin played for Collins at SIUE in the early 90s and went on to play nine years in the Atlanta Braves organization.

- The Cougars acclimated pretty well in their first season of OVC play, finishing in a tie for 5th place after coming in from the independent ranks. They won series vs. EIU and Jax State and also beat OVC champs Austin Peay during conference play.

- Getting back staff ace Travis Felax for one more go-round will help, but SIU-E will forge on without Josh Hoquet and Thad Hawkins, the two most-used pitchers beyond Felax. Also, saves ace Dustin Quattrocchi also hit the bricks, so there are plenty of key roles to fill for the Cougars.

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- SOUTHEAST MISSOURI STATE (34-22, 14-8)

2012 ISR: 220

Starters Returning: 5

Weekend Starters: 2

Mid-Week Starters: 2

Key Relievers (15+inns.): 6

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All Conference Candidates:

OF Derek Gibson (.338-7-38)

UTL Andy Lennington (.290-3-32)

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NOTES:

- The winningest coach in SEMO history has moved on as Mark Hogan ended his 18-year run as the Redhawks head coach with his retirement last summer. Hogan won 526 games and led SEMO to its only two NCAA tournament appearances in 1998 and 2002. They also made 18 straight appearances in the OVC post-season tournament.

- It was a real drag to see coach H go out on such a languid note, winning just 23 games and finishing an un-SEMO-like 7th place in the OVC. New head coach Steve Bieser and his youthful staff begin an arduous climb, which is rare territory for a program used to contending year-in, year-out.

- SEMO will be missing their staff ace from a year ago in Shae Simmons, but other than his 15 starts, every other pitcher of note returns to the corps and should help improve their downright stinky 6.37 team ERA. Not a single pitcher returns who had an ERA below 5.00.

- Top two hitters, and team leaders, Trenton Moses and Kenton Parmley, were longtime mainstays and have both moved on to greener pastures. With them the infield will need some retooling as well.

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- TENNESSEE-MARTIN (13-41, 7-20)

2012 ISR: 272

Starters Returning: 6

Weekend Starters: 0

Mid-Week Starters: 1

Key Relievers (15+inns.): 4

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All Conference Candidates:

RHP Dan Tobik (3-2, 2.78, 5svs)

OF Grant Glasser (.293-2-18)

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NOTES:

- For the fifth time in the last six seasons the Skyhawks found themselves supplanted at the bottom rung of the Ohio Valley Conference standings at the end of the year. Dangit!! And that was considering UT-M had a lot of experience coming back to the team last year, including all three weekend starters on the hill.

- This year, and I hate to say this ‘coz I’m pulling for the ‘Hawks to shake the doldrums here, but the cupboard is pretty bare. All of the weekend starters have graduated, as has leading hitter Jordan Owen and his 332 average and solid backstop Chase Okey.

- The infield returns 3B Nico Zych (.277), 2B Sonny Mastromatteo (.243, 10SBs) and will get part-time starter Jake Deason back at SS, after he posted 27 starts last year, but must improve on that .211 average.

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- TENNESSEE TECH (21-32, 10-16)

2012 ISR: 208

Starters Returning: 7

Weekend Starters: 2

Mid-Week Starters: 1

Key Relievers (15+inns.): 5

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All Conference Candidates:

1B Zach Stephens (.368-18-52)

2B/SS Michael Morris (.328-3-30)

OF James Abraham (.326, 10SBs)

OF Austin Wulf (.314-4-25, 10SBs)

RHP Tristan Archer (4-4, 4.04)

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NOTES:

- Get this. The Eagles started the season by handing Missouri State All American Nick Petree a loss on opening day. Annnnnnnd… that might’ve been about it for the highlights of the 2012 season, unfortunately. Finding some quality depth in the bullpen was one of the bigger issues. The good side is that there is a lot of experience coming back and at least this time around those arms are a year older. So that should help.

- The unfortunate side is that staff ace Tristan Archer and key reliever Garrett Baugh are the only two flingers who sported a sub-5.00 ERA a year ago and accounted for 134 innings of work last year.

- Offensively, this team could have the best set of bats in the OVC, having four .300+ hitters back, led by All American candidate Zach Stephens.

 

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