Ohio Valley Conference Preseason Poll and Teams

FROM CBB NEWS SOURCE

BRENTWOOD, Tenn. — For the second year in a row, Jacksonville State has been picked as the preseason favorite for the nine-team league in a vote of Ohio Valley Conference head baseball coaches. The Gamecocks claimed the 2008 regular season championship with a 23-4 record last season but came up just short in the OVC Tournament.

In additional voting, Jacksonville State junior right-hander Ben Tootle was tabbed the OVC Preseason Pitcher of the Year while Eastern Illinois senior outfielder Brett Nommensen was picked the OVC Preseason Player of the Year.

The overall voting in the preseason poll was close as Jacksonville State, who received five first-place votes, edged Eastern Illinois, who had the other four first-place votes, by just one total point. Eastern Illinois swept through four games at the OVC Tournament last season on its way to team’s first title since 1999 and a berth in the NCAA Regionals. Those two teams were followed by Austin Peay (48 points), Southeast Missouri State (42), Tennessee Tech (38), Murray State (23), Morehead State (22), Eastern Kentucky (20) and UT Martin (10).

Jacksonville State set an OVC record with 23 Conference victories last season but lost to Eastern Illinois 10-6 in a semifinal matchup and was unable to advance through the consolation bracket back to the title game. Since joining the OVC in 2004, the Gamecocks have averaged 19 Conference victories a season and have won two regular season and two tournament championships. This season head coach Jim Case will return 15 letterwinners and eight positional starters from a team that was 37-21 overall in 2008. The team is led by Tootle, the 6’1 right-handed pitcher, who was named OVC Preseason Pitcher of the Year. Prior to the start of the season he has already been named a Preseason All-American by Collegiate Baseball and the NCBWA as well as being named to the Brooks Wallace National Player of the Year Award Watch List. In two years with Jax State, Tootle has compiled a 16-5 overall record, including an unblemished 8-0 mark against Conference opponents a season ago. Last season he struck out 79 batters and walked only 29 in 86 innings of work. Three other Gamecocks joined Tootle on the Preseason All-OVC team, making the four JSU selections the most by one team in the Conference. Joining Tootle on the team is two-time All-OVC second baseman Bert Smith (.332, 69 hits, 56 runs, 15 stolen bases last season), outfielder and 2008 OVC Freshman of the Year Todd Cunningham (.340, 73 hits, 65 runs, 16 doubles) and junior utility man Steven Leach (.354, 81 hits, 49 runs, 58 RBI).

Coming off his second OVC Tournament Championship, Eastern Illinois 15th year head coach Jim Schmitz has 24 letterwinners, eight positional starters and three starting pitchers back this season. The team needs to replace only its designated hitter from last year in this season’s starting lineup. EIU is led by the Preseason OVC Player of the Year Nommensen, who produced gaudy numbers last year in earning All-OVC first-team honors as well as being selected to the NCAA Regional All-Tournament Team. Nommensen hit .402 with 82 hits, 56 runs, 18 doubles, five home runs and 36 RBI. His slugging percentage was .603 while his on-base percentage was a league-best .518. Nommensen also stole 18 bases. Also back for the Panthers is second baseman Jordan Tokarz, who was selected the MVP of the 2008 OVC Tournament; Tokarz hit .299 with 42 RBI for the entire season. Joining Nommensen on the Preseason All-OVC team is sophomore pitcher Josh Mueller. Mueller won six games last season (four in OVC play) and was named to the OVC All-Freshman squad. He struck out 79 batters in 70.1 innings of work and also had a complete game under his belt.

Austin Peay, who has won two of the last four OVC Tournament Championships (2005, 2007) has 15 letterwinners and four positional starters back from last year’s team that was 14-12 in the OVC (third place). Head coach Gary McClure will need to replace all three outfielders and both middle infielders from last year’s team. The team does have Preseason All-OVC pick Daniel Tenholder returning. Tenholder, a junior closer, saved a league-best 11 games last season while compiling a 2.72 ERA in 36.1 innings of work. Tenholder also struck out 41 batters in his 30 appearances. Overall the Governors return its entire pitching staff, including starter Stephen Huff, who won five games and compiled a 3.46 ERA in 17 appearances (14 starts).

Under the direction of 15th year head coach Mark Hogan, Southeast Missouri State has advanced to the OVC Tournament in each of his first 14 seasons on the bench. Last season the Redhawks advanced to the OVC Tournament Championship game last season before falling to Eastern Illinois by a 7-4 margin. The team brings back a lot of offensive firepower from last year, including three Preseason All-OVC selections. Among those is junior catcher Jim Klocke, who was the OVC Freshman of the Year in 2007 and an honorable mention preseason All-American pick this season. Klocke, who was also named to the OVC All-Tournament Team a year ago, hit .357 with six home runs and 40 RBI in 2008. He was also near flawless defensively, committing only three errors all year long (.991 fielding percentage). Joining him on the team is senior first baseman Matt Wagner (.337, 69 hits, 11 home runs and 57 RBI) and senior outfielder Tyrell Cummings (.329, 74 hits, 16 doubles, 12 home runs, 58 RBI). Wagner and Cummings combined for 23 of the Redhawks OVC-best 60 home runs last season; the 60 round trippers were 18 more than the next closest OVC squad.

Tennessee Tech returns sophomore A.J. Kirby-Jones who played first base, designated hitter and pitched for the Golden Eagles last season. Kirby-Jones, who was named to the All-Tournament Team at the OVC Baseball Championship, hit .326 with five home runs and 51 RBI and also saw 40 innings of work on the mound, compiling a 4-1 record with two saves. Also returning are starting pitchers Michael Alcorn and Jared Dobbs who combined for 11 wins in 25 starts a season ago. Head coach Matt Bragga will have some offensive to replace off a TTU team that led the OVC in batting in 2008 (.313).

Murray State placed three players on the Preseason All-OVC squad, tying them with Southeast Missouri for second most among the nine OVC schools. Among those is 2008 All-OVC first-team selection Wes Cunningham, a junior designated hitter. Cunningham led the Racers with a .380 average last season, recording 62 hits, 32 runs, two home runs and 30 RBI. Also on the preseason squad is third baseman Tyler Owen, a second-team All-OVC selection last season. Owen hit .293 with 23 RBI in 44 games a year ago. One of the Thoroughbreds strengths this season will be pitching, as Preseason All-OVC selection Daniel Calhoun and starter Chris Craycraft return. Calhoun led the league with six complete games last season, compiling a 5-3 record and 3.00 ERA in 81 innings of work; he struck out 67 batters and walked only 15. Craycraft chipped in with three complete games of his own, winning five games and striking out 50 in 86.1 innings of work.

Morehead State won 18 games overall and eight Conference games in Jay Sorg’s first season as coach in 2008. The 2009 edition of the Eagles includes one player tabbed as a Preseason All-OVC pick, junior shortstop Drew Lee. Lee started all 51 games for Morehead State last season, hitting .313 with 61 hits, 12 doubles, seven home runs and 30 RBI. Also returning is junior Michael Bottoms, who led the team in both batting average and earned run average as a sophomore. Bottoms hit .323 with 54 hits, five home runs and 34 RBI and also started 12 games, winning three and striking out 36 in 65 innings of work.

Eastern Kentucky first-year head coach Jason Stein is the lone new face in the OVC coaching ranks this season. Stein, who played for the Colonels, takes over a program that won 26 games last season, including 12 in the Conference but missed out on the OVC Tournament by just one game. The Colonels will have to replace Major League First Round draft pick Christian Friedrich, who was the OVC Pitcher of the Year last season, as well as the next three starters on the squad from last season. Offensively a lot more experience returns, as seven positional starters are back. Those players are led by third baseman Anthony Ottrando, who hit a team-best .354 with 67 hits and 46 RBI last season. Also returning is outfielder Aaron Barrows (.339, 14 stolen bases) and utility player Tyler Rehmel (.306, 57 hits, 5 home runs, 45 RBI). Overall the Colonels have 17 newcomers for 2009.

UT Martin returns several talented players from last year’s team, including Wes Patterson who produced with both his bat and arm as a freshman in 2008. Patterson led the Skyhawks with 10 home runs in just 118 at-bats, hitting .297 with 29 RBI. On the mound he saved four games in 17 appearances. Also back is senior second baseman Scott Gladstone who hit a team-best .316 last season, and twins Mark (.302, 18 RBI) and Miles Hartsfield (.300, 29 RBI).

Joining the action this season is the newest member of the Conference, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. The University officially became a member of the league on July 1 but since SIUE is still in the reclassification process to Division I, the team will not play a full OVC baseball schedule until 2012 and will not be eligible for postseason competition until 2013.

The 61st season of OVC baseball will get underway on Friday, Feb. 20. Seven OVC schools will see action that day with the remaining schools playing on Saturday. The first weekend of league play will be held March 21-22. The season will culminate with the 2009 OVC Tournament which will be held at historic Brooks Stadium in Paducah, Ky. for the ninth straight year. The tournament runs May 20-24 this season.

2009 OVC Baseball Preseason Predicted Order of Finish
1. Jacksonville State (5 first-place votes) – 61
2. Eastern Illinois (4) – 60
3. Austin Peay – 48
4. Southeast Missouri State – 42
5. Tennessee Tech – 38
6. Murray State – 23
7. Morehead State – 22
8. Eastern Kentucky – 20
9. UT Martin – 10

Preseason OVC Player of the Year: Brett Nommensen, Eastern Illinois
Preseason OVC Pitcher of the Year: Ben Tootle, Jacksonville State

2009 All-OVC Preseason Baseball Team
C – Jim Klocke, Southeast Missouri
1B – Matt Wagner, Southeast Missouri
2B – Bert Smith, Jacksonville State
SS – Drew Lee, Morehead State
3B – Tyler Owen, Murray State
OF – Brett Nommensen, Eastern Illinois
OF – Tyrell Cummings, Southeast Missouri
OF – Todd Cunningham, Jacksonville State
DH – Wes Cunningham, Murray State
UT – Steven Leach, Jacksonville State
SP – Ben Tootle, Jacksonville State
SP – Josh Mueller, Eastern Illinois
SP – Daniel Calhoun, Murray State
RP – Daniel Tenholder, Austin Peay