FROM CBD NEWS SOURCE
BRENTWOOD, Tenn. – A season after claiming the 2010 OVC Tournament Championship, Jacksonville State has been tabbed the 2011 preseason favorite for the nine-team league in a vote of Ohio Valley Conference head baseball coaches. In additional voting Tennessee Tech senior All-American outfielder Chad Oberacker was named OVC Preseason Player of the Year while Eastern Illinois junior hurler Mike Hoekstra was tabbed OVC Preseason Pitcher of the Year.
The overall voting in the preseason poll was close as three different teams received first-place votes and those teams were separated in the poll by just five total points. Jax State claimed four first-place votes and 59 total points to be picked as the favorites. Southeast Missouri finished next with three first-place votes and 55 points while Tennessee Tech, last year’s regular season champions, were third with two first-place votes and 54 points. Eastern Illinois was picked fourth (36) and was followed by Eastern Kentucky (33), Murray State (28), Austin Peay (25), Morehead State (19) and UT Martin (10).
In all, 14 players were selected to the Preseason All-OVC team. The 14 players represented seven of the nine teams who will compete for the OVC championship this season. Southeast Missouri led the way with six selections while UT Martin (3) was the only other team with multiple picks. Returning players who were first-team selections at the end of last season were automatic picks for this year’s team.
Despite not having a preseason All-OVC selection, the coaches still believed Jacksonville State is one of the top teams in the league. After finishing 1.5 games out of first place in the regular season in 2010, JSU swept through the OVC Tournament, including besting regular season champion Tennessee Tech twice on its way to its third OVC Championship (2004, 2006, 2010) since joining the league in 2004. The Gamecocks did lose five positional starters from that team (three who were All-OVC selections), including second baseman Bert Smith, who finished his career as the all-time hits and games played leader in OVC history, and second round Major League draft pick Todd Cunningham. This season head coach Jim Case, who enters his 10th season with the team, will look to returning players Kyle Bluestein (.290, 12 home runs), Sam Eberle (.277, 16 home runs, 60 RBI) and Blake Seguin (.318, 11 stolen bases) to take on bigger roles this season. The team also has freshman Coty Blanchard to fit into the lineup; Blanchard, who was drafted by the Baltimore Orioles in last year’s MLB Draft, was an OVC All-Newcomer selection as a punter and backup quarterback for the Gamecocks football team this past fall.
Last season Southeast Missouri reached the 30-win plateau for the eighth time in 16 seasons under head coach Mark Hogan. The Redhawks also kept alive an impressive streak of making the OVC Tournament field for the 16th-straight season (every year of Hogan’s tenure), which is an all-time OVC record. This year’s edition of the team features 26 returning letterwinners, including eight positional starters and 10 total pitchers. Overall Southeast lost just four players from last year’s roster that led the OVC in batting (.346), the most significant being All-American catcher Jim Klocke. But Southeast does have six players on the preseason All-OVC team including senior outfielders Louie Haseltine (.325, 69 hits, 14 doubles, 17 home runs, 56 RBI) and Michael Adamson (.388, school-record 92 hits, 23 doubles, 49 RBI), senior utility player Casey Jones (.398, 82 hits, 10 home runs, 66 RBI), junior shortstop Kenton Parmley (.380, 90 hits, 67 runs, 11 home runs, 12 stolen bases), senior starting pitcher Jordan Underwood (17 appearances, 4.11 ERA, 6-5, 72.1 IP, 56 strikeouts) and sophomore closer Shae Simmons (25 appearances, 3.20 E.R.A., 3-3, 5 saves, 43 strikeouts). The Redhawks are looking to claim the program’s first regular season and tournament titles since 2002.
Tennessee Tech is one of just two OVC schools who have won 30 or more games in each of the past three years (JSU being the other). Coming off the 2009 OVC Tournament Championship, the Golden Eagles began last season 0-5 in OVC play before running off 11-straight Conference victories and winning 14 of its final 15 OVC games to win its first regular season title since 1997. Despite not winning its second-straight tournament title, coach Matt Bragga’s team did advance to the championship round for the second-straight season before falling to Jax State. Gone from last year’s squad is All-American A.J. Kirby-Jones who tied the OVC single-season record with 26 home runs last year (one off the national lead) before being drafted by the Oakland Athletics in the ninth round of the MLB Draft. But the team does return Oberacker, the Preseason OVC Player of the Year, who is the only returning All-American from the OVC last season. Despite being drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals in the 19th round, the outfielder decided to return to school for one more season. Last year he was third nationally with a .452 batting average while setting OVC single-season records for hits (108) and doubles (29).
After winning the OVC regular season crown in 2009 Eastern Illinois was in the middle of the pack last season, finishing 11-12 in Conference play. This season the Panthers return 13 letterwinners and six positional starters from that team. Head coach Jim Schmitz, now in his 17th season with the program, does have Hoekstra, the Preseason OVC Pitcher of the Year, back to solidify a staff that led the league in earned run average last season, and sent the other two weekend starters on to play professional baseball. The right-handed junior started the season as the No. 3 pitcher on paper and finished the season with a team-best 4.16 E.R.A. while winning four games in 11 starts. Hoekstra had a pair of complete games and a shutout on his resume during the season and walked only five batters in 67 innings of work (a mark that set a new OVC single-season record and ranked him first nationally in walks allowed per nine innings – 0.67). Offensively, junior infielder Zach Borenstein will look to lead the attack again; as a sophomore he led the Panthers with a .353 average, 11 home runs, 47 RBI and 12 stolen bases.
Last year then second-year head coach Jason Stein led his alma mater, Eastern Kentucky, back into the OVC Tournament field (top six seeds) for the first time since 2007 as the team compiled a 28-27 overall record and 9-12 mark in Conference. That team relied on corner infielders Jayson Langfels and Anthony Ottrando, who combined for 33 home runs and 119 RBI a year ago, for a majority of its offense and both are now gone from the program. However, it was shortstop Richie Rodriguez who led the Colonels in batting, hitting .357 and stealing a team-best 21 bases in 2010. Now a junior Rodriguez will look to lead an offense attack that also includes preseason All-OVC selection Jacob Daniel, the team’s designated hitter. Daniel, also a junior, hit six home runs and drove in 27 RBI last season. EKU also has the pitching tandem of senior Paul Duncan (5-5, 57.1 IP) and sophomore Anthony Bazzani (5-3, 77.1 IP) to anchor its rotation.
After losing on the first day of the OVC Tournament last year, Murray State won three games in a row and led in the next game before falling just one game short of the championship round. The Thoroughbreds, skippered by eighth-year head coach Rob McDonald, did lose All-American first baseman Wes Cunningham, but returns sophomore shortstop Brandon Elliott, who an OVC All-Freshman selection last season after hitting .347 with 59 hits, 41 runs and 25 RBI in 45 games. For the third year in a row last season Murray State led the league in complete games (8) with five of those coming from lefty Jake Donze. Donze, a senior, won six games and racked up 71 strikeouts in 83.2 innings of work.
Austin Peay is looking to make the OVC Tournament field for the first time since 2008, which was one year after the program claimed its third tournament title. Gary McClure’s squad returns 14 players from last season and that group is joined by 17 newcomers. After being selected to the OVC All-Freshman squad in 2009, infielder Jon Clinard earned All-OVC second-team honors last year and is a preseason All-OVC pick this year. A year ago Clinard hit .333 with 30 RBI and 29 stolen bases in 33 attempts. On the mound Ryne Harper is back for his senior season, after compiling a 4-3 record and 5.35 earned run average in 10 appearances.
Always an offensive threat, Morehead State led the OVC in home runs once again last season (97) while finishing second in the OVC in batting average (.337). Jay Sorg’s team just missed out on qualifying for the OVC Tournament field but will look to return to the event this season. Leading the offensive threat is junior catcher Taylor Davis who hit .350 with 64 hits, 40 runs, 11 home runs and 57 RBI a season ago. Davis is the league’s preseason All-OVC selection at catcher this season. Also returning is infielder Michael Fear, who hit .341 with 57 hits, 10 doubles and 35 RBI a year ago.
Despite being picked to finish last this season, UT Martin had the second-most players on the preseason All-OVC team (3) and brings momentum from last year’s third-straight season of improvement into this season. After winning just 10 games overall in 2008, the Skyhawks won 20 games the next season and were 24-31 last season, the most victories in a year under now 13th year head coach Bubba Cates; it marked the best campaign for the team since joining the Division I ranks in 1993. The preseason All-OVC selections include junior outfielder Jordan Owen who blasted a league-best 14 home runs in Conference action a season ago. Owen had 18 total home runs in all games, which established a new UTM single-season record (breaking a mark that had stood for 38 years). Senior first baseman Wes Patterson is also on the preseason team; last year Patterson established a school record for RBI (64) while hitting .344 and smashing 15 home runs. The final preseason honoree is third baseman Trey Karlen who hit .356 with 61 runs scored, 14 home runs, 45 RBI, 30 stolen bases and a Skyhawk single-season record 22 doubles. UT Martin is searching for its first OVC Tournament berth since 1996; the Skyhawks hope to make it to Pringles Park, which is just an hour and 15 minutes from its campus.
Southern Illinois University Edwardsville officially became a member of the league on July 1, 2008. SIUE, however, is still in the reclassification process to Division I and the team will not play a full OVC baseball schedule until next season (2012) and will not be eligible for postseason competition until 2013. Despite not counting in the OVC standings this season, the Cougars will play season series with eight of the nine other OVC schools.
The 63rd season of OVC baseball will get underway on Friday, Feb. 18 with the first weekend of league play being held March 26-27. The season will culminate with the 2011 OVC Tournament which will be held for the second year in a row at Pringles Park in Jackson, Tenn. Pringles Park is the home of the Jackson Generals, the Double-A affiliate of the Seattle Mariners. The tournament runs May 25-29.
2011 OVC Baseball Predicted Order of Finish
1. Jacksonville State (4 first-place votes) – 59
2. Southeast Missouri (3) – 55
3. Tennessee Tech (2) – 54
4. Eastern Illinois – 36
5. Eastern Kentucky – 33
6. Murray State – 28
7. Austin Peay – 25
8. Morehead State – 19
9. UT Martin – 10
2011 Preseason All-OVC Team
Preseason OVC Player of the Year: Chad Oberacker, Tennessee Tech
Preseason OVC Pitcher of the Year: Mike Hoekstra, Eastern Illinois
C – Taylor Davis, Morehead State
1B – Wes Patterson, UT Martin
2B – Jon Clinard, Austin Peay
SS – Kenton Parmley, Southeast Missouri
3B – Trey Karlen, UT Martin
OF – Chad Oberacker, Tennessee Tech
OF – Louie Haseltine, Southeast Missouri
OF – Michael Adamson, Southeast Missouri
OF – Jordan Owen, UT Martin
DH – Jacob Daniel, Eastern Kentucky
UT – Casey Jones, Southeast Missouri
SP – Mike Hoekstra, Eastern Illinois
SP – Jordan Underwood, Southeast Missouri
RP – Shae Simmons, Southeast Missouri