FROM CBB NEWS SOURCE
ST. LOUIS – Missouri State, which returns a dominating veteran pitching staff and solid depth from last year’s Missouri Valley Conference runner-up squad, has been tabbed as the league favorite in the annual coaches’ preseason poll, receiving eight of nine first place votes.
The Bears tallied 80 points and were a sound favorite over second-place pick Creighton (66 points). 2008 champion Wichita State, who secured the remaining first-place vote and 63 points overall, was picked to finish in the third position.
Southern Illinois was selected in fourth place with 45 points, followed by Bradley in fifth (39) and Indiana State in the sixth slot (34).
UNI (33), Illinois State (28) and Evansville (17) round out the final three 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 seven teams to the 2009 preseason all-MVC baseball squad.
Missouri State, Creighton and Southern Illinois each land three players on the preseason all-Valley team. The Bears are noted by 2008 Pitcher of the Year Tim Clubb, Ben Carlson (DH) and Brayden Drake (3B), while Darin Ruf (1B/DH), Elliot Soto (SS) and Robbie Knight (OF) represent the Jays on the preseason squad. The Salukis land Mark Kelly (C), Scott Elmendorf (2B) and Bryant George (RP) on the preseason all-MVC list.
Two Braves were recognized by the coaches to join the preseason squad, including Colby Luttrell (OF) and Kori Jensen (RP).
Wichita State lands junior Ryan Jones (OF) on the preseason squad, while Illinois State’s Ryan Copeland (SP) and UNI’s Brett Douglas (UT) fill the final spots in the preseason all-Valley squad.
The Valley will look to build off the success of an exciting 2008 season that saw league champion Wichita State make a run in the postseason, winning the Stillwater, Okla. Regional, before falling to Florida State in the Tallahassee, Fla. Super-Regional.
The foundation is in place as league teams return 107 starters (62 percent), six first-team all-conference players, six players who earned second-team accolades and another nine who earned honorable mention honors. In all, 152 letter winners return to MVC teams this fall, better than 61 percent of all players who saw action on the field a season ago.
Missouri State welcomes back five starters and 11 pitchers from a squad that won 40 games a season ago. The Bears pitching staff returns almost in full, including ace Tim Clubb, the reigning MVC Pitcher of the Year, who set a school record with his perfect 11-0 record in 2008. Junior Buddy Baumann and sophomore Aaron Meade also return to Missouri State as part of the weekend starting rotation. The infield returns four-year starter Brayden Drake at third base and junior Curt Courtwright enters his second season as the starter at shortstop. Junior All-American Ben Carlson and senior Chris Playter also return to the Bears lineup, and will be used primarily as utility players.
Creighton brings back four starters and returns its top-three starting pitchers from last year’s third-place team, including senior Jeremy Hauer, who led the Jays with eight wins in 2008, and Mike Nihsen, who led all MVC pitchers with a 2.30 ERA. The bullpen will look to replace relief pitcher Pat Venditte, who led the team in wins (nine). CU’s solid infield experience welcomes back three of four starters from a year ago, in Ruf (1B), Soto (SS) and Vicente Cafaro (2B), while junior centerfielder Robbie Knight will anchor the Jays’ outfield.
After winning a league-leading 16th MVC tournament title and advancing to their second straight Super Regional last season, the Shockers return two just starters and 13 letter winners in 2009. The pitching staff loses first team All-American and 14th round draft pick Rob Musgrave, second-round draft pick Aaron Shafer and fourth-round draft pick and third team All-American Anthony Capra. Sophomore Tim Kelley, along with six other returning pitchers and eight newcomers, will compete for the starting rotation. Junior Clint McKeever returns to the Shocker lineup at first base after serving mainly as the DH last season, and will provide infi eld experience after losing second team All-American Conor Gillaspie to the San Francisco Giants. Junior Ryan Jones is the lone Shocker to return to the outfi eld in 2009 and will lead the charge after hitting .326 and adding 43 RBI last season.
Southern Illinois returns four starters and one starting pitcher from a Saluki squad that won 34 games a season ago. Senior Mark Kelly (C) returns to the Dawgs after leading the team in hitting and RBI in each of the last two seasons. Senior Scott Elmendorf (2B) also returns to the SIU lineup after hitting .303 with 40 runs and 26 RBI in 2008. On the mound, senior right-hander Adam Curynski is the lone returning starter, finishing 5-1 with a 2.37 ERA in his Saluki debut a year ago. Junior closer Bryant George, who needs just five saves to break the Saluki school record, returns as SIU’s top reliever.
Bradley returns a solid core of seven starters and six pitchers, but welcomes new head coach Elvis Dominguez after long-time skipper Dewey Kalmer retired after 29 years at the helm of the Braves program. All four infield starters return to the Bradley lineup, including senior Grant Escue, who hit .314 with a team-leading 17 doubles in 2008. Junior Matt Fritz returns at second base after leading the Braves with a .447 on-base percentage, while senior Tommy Fitzgerald (SS) and sophomore Rob Elliott (3B) also return. Senior right fielder Colby Luttrell will anchor the Saluki outfield after leading the team with a .363 batting average and 48 RBI in 2008. Southern Illinois returns a trio of proven arms, in senior Collin Brennan, junior Rob Scahill and junior Brad Altbach, with senior Kori Jensen anchoring the bullpen.
Indiana State welcomes back eight starters and four starting pitchers, including first team all-Valley selection Ryan Strausborger (2B), who returns as the Sycamores leader in batting average (.322), hits (59) and triples (3). Two key outfielders, senior Brady Shoemaker and junior Nick Cioli, also return to the Sycamore lineup. In 2008, Shoemaker led the team in home runs (9), RBI (68) and slugging percentage (.556). The Sycamores also welcome back seniors Brian Jett (1B) and Kyle Lafrenz (C). On the mound, senior left-handed pitcher Michael Manus is Indiana State’s top returner, after posting the squad’s second-best ERA (5.73) last season.
UNI returns just two starting position players and two pitchers from last year’s 30-win squad, and will look to fill the void of 2008 MVC Player of the Year, Brandon Douglas. The Panthers return first-team all-Valley utility player Brett Douglas, after hitting .302 as a junior, while Cory Ege returns to the infield at shortstop in 2009. Senior Deric Manrique is back in center field and is the Panthers’ top returning hitter, posting a .312 average in 2008. On the hill, UNI brings back starters Nick Kirk and Derek Ott. Kirk finished last season with a 3.84 ERA and threw UNI’s first no-hitter in 13 years last season, while Ott saw action in 11 games in 2008 and turned in a 4.34 ERA. The Panther bullpen will be anchored by senior Zach Zirbel, who made 14 appearances in 2008.
Illinois State welcomes back six starters and nine pitchers from last season, but will look to fill the hole left by catcher Kevin Dubler, who was drafted in the eighth round by the White Sox last season. The Redbirds return their top starting pitcher in Ryan Copeland, a 2008 honorable mention all-MVC pick, while Kyle Nelson returns in the bullpen after leading Illinois State with a 3.26 ERA as a freshman. Senior Collin Salzenstein is back in the Illinois State lineup at shortstop after missing last season with an injury, while utility man Mike Stalowy will open the season at second base. Sophomore Kevin Tokarski, a preseason Brooks Wallace Award candidate and 2008 Honorable Mention Freshman All-American, will move from shortstop to centerfield where the Redbirds will benefit from his speed and quickness. Tokarski set the Illinois State single-season mark for stolen bases with 32 last season.
Former Evansville standout Wes Carroll takes over the Purple Aces’ program in 2009, inheriting an experienced group of returning players including eight position starters and 11 pitchers from last year’s squad. Senior outfield Jim Viscomi returns to the Evansville lineup after missing nearly all of 2008 due to injury. Viscomi, who ranked third in the MVC in hitting in 2007 with a .374 average, will anchor a talented UE outfield which includes 2009 Preseason Wallace Award Watch List member Greg Wallace. Wallace paced all MVC freshmen in hitting last year at .317 on his way to Freshman All-America honors. On the infield, senior shortstop Peter Tountas will return to anchor the UE infield, after hitting .286 in MVC play with a team-best five home runs last spring. Junior catcher Andy Pascoe returns behind home plate for the Purple Aces this year, after hitting .294 a season ago. On the mound, senior right-hander John Foley returns to anchor the UE pitching staff, after winning a team-best five games and posting a 4.66 ERA.
All nine Missouri Valley Conference baseball teams begin action on Friday, Feb. 20, with tournament play and non-conference games, while league battles will heat up starting Friday, March 20.
2009 Preseason Poll
Rank Team (1st-place votes) Points
1. Missouri State (8) ………………………………….. 80
2. Creighton …………………………………………….. 66
3. Wichita State (1) …………………………………… 63
4. Southern Illinois ……………………………………. 45
5. Bradley ………………………………………………… 39
6. Indiana State ………………………………………… 34
7. UNI ……………………………………………………… 33
8. Illinois State………………………………………….. 28
9. Evansville …………………………………………….. 17
2009 MVC Preseason All-Conference Team
Player,Team Position B/T Yr. Hometown (Previous School)
Ben Carlson, Missouri State 1B L/L Jr. Topeka, Kan. (Seaman)
Scott Elmendorf, Southern Illinois 2B R/R Sr. Newburgh, Ind. (Castle)
Brayden Drake, Missouri State 3B R/R Sr. Webb City, Mo. (Webb City)
Elliot Soto, Creighton SS R/R So. Algonquin, Ill. (Dundee Crown)
Mark Kelly, Southern Illinois C R/R Sr. Hanover Park, Ill. (Hoffman Estates)
Darin Ruf, Creighton DH/1B R/R Sr. Omaha, Neb. (Westside)
Brett Douglas, UNI UT R/R Sr. St. Charles, Iowa (I 35)
Ryan Jones, Wichita State OF L/L Jr. Wichita, Kan. (Bishop Carroll)
Robbie Knight, Creighton OF R/L Jr. Bennington, Neb. (Millard North/Kansas State)
Colby Luttrell, Bradley OF L/R Sr. Kincaid, Ill. (South Fork)
Tim Clubb, Missouri State SP R/R Jr. Eureka, Mo. (Eureka)
Ryan Copeland, Illinois State SP R/L Jr. Des Plaines, Ill. (Elk Grove)
Bryant George, Southern Illinois RP R/R Jr. DuQuoin, Ill. (DuQuoin)
Kori Jensen, Bradley RP R/R Sr. Wichita, Kan. (Goddard/Hutchinson County)