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2012 Missouri Valley Conference Preseason Coaches Poll

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 five of eight first-place votes.

The Bears tallied 60 points and were a close favorite over second-place pick Creighton (53 points). Wichita State (47 points) was picked to finish in the third position.

Indiana State was selected in fourth place with 37 points, followed by Illinois State in fifth (34) and Southern Illinois in the sixth slot (31). Bradley (15) and Evansville (11) 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 15 players representing all eight teams to the 2012 preseason all-MVC baseball squad.

Missouri State returns seven position starters and seven pitchers from last season’s 33-23 squad, earning 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 Kevin Medrano, Brock Chaffin, Nick Petree and Luke Voit. Chaffin (1B) led the Bears with a .344 average and a .550 slugging percentage, while Medrano (2B) hit .325 with 13 stolen bases. Senior Brent Seifert (3B) is the Bears’ top returner in RBI (43), doubles (16) and home runs (9). The Missouri State pitching staff returns the reigning MVC Freshman of the Year in right-handed Nick Petree, who posted a 9-2 mark with a 2.81 ERA. Also back on the mound are Pierce Johnson (6-5, 4.76 ERA, 72 K) and Grant Gordon (3-6, 3.93 ERA, 49 K).

Creighton brings back seven starters and several talented pitchers from last year’s 45-16 squad, which won both the regular-season and State Farm MVC Baseball championship titles. Returning to the mound for the Bluejays is junior ace Ty Blach (10-3, 2.65 ERA), senior closer Kurt Spomer, who tied for the lead league with 13 saves in 2011, and senior Reese McGraw (6-1, 3.00 ERA, 34 K, 5 saves), another top bullpen pitcher. Consistently one of the nation’s leaders in fielding percentage, Creighton returns 75-percent of its infield, in Alex Staehely (.285, 65 H, 23 2B, 36 RBI), Nick Judkins (.227, 50 H, 42 R, 9 2B) and Chance Ross (.218, 47 H, 23 RBI), while senior Anthony Bemboom (.233, 40 H, 5 2B, 4 HR, 23 RBI) will start at the catching position. Sophomore Mike Gerber (.280, 47 H, 8 2B, 7 HR, 23 RBI), a second team all-MVC pick in 2011, will anchor the Jays’ outfield.

Wichita State returns six starters and 19 letterwinners from a 2011 squad that went 39-26 and finished second in the league standings. The Shocker pitching staff returns nine pitchers from the 2011 staff that posted a 3.27 ERA, including senior Josh Smith (7-4, 3.00 ERA) and sophomore Cale Elam (4-1, 1.23 ERA, 4 saves), who was a Freshman All-America selection last season. The Shockers entire outfield remains intact, as Don Lambert (.259, 17 2B, 5 3B, 30 RBP), Kevin Hall (.254, 65 H, 13 2B, 56 R) and Micah Green (.241, 35 H, 23 RBI) return to the lineup. First team all-Valley selection Johnny Coy (.274, 71 H, 59 RBI), returns to the Shocker lineup at first base. Junior Walker Davidson (.246, 46 H, 25 RBI) and sophomore Tyler Coughenour (.259, 45 H, 24 R), are also back on the Wichita State infield.

Indiana State returns a veteran squad for the 2012 season, with all nine position starters back on the field for the Sycamores, a team that finished 29-28 last season, and made a strong run in the State Farm MVC Tournament. The Sycamores welcome back four players that hit above .300 last season, and will be led by a trio of talented juniors in Robby Ort, Jeremy Lucas and Koby Kraemer. Ort, a first team all-MVC outfielder, led the Sycamores in runs (56), triples (7), home runs (10) and RBI (53), while Kraemer is the top returner in hits (75), doubles (14) and stolen bases (9). Lucas, a second team all-Valley selection at catcher, brings a .333 average and .423 OBP back to the Indiana State lineup. Sophomore Sean Manaea (5-5, 4.32 ERA, 82 K, .241 Opp. BA) will lead the way on the mound for Indiana State, with Reggie Hochstedler (4-1, 3.38 ERA, 53 K) and Chris Machado (5-3, 4.66 ERA, 35 K) also returning to the hill for the Sycamores.

Illinois State returns five starters and 19 letterwinners from last season’s 36-18 squad that finished third in the league standings. The Redbirds will be led offensively by senior Kevin Tokarski, an honorable mention all-MVC selection a season ago, who is the top returner in hits (58) and runs (47), while batting .282. Mike Hollenbeck (.265, 43 H, 42 RBI, 12 2B) and Chad Hinshaw (.244, 48 H, 31 SB) also return to the Illinois State lineup. On the mound, shutdown closer Kenny Long (4-1, 0.92 ERA, 45 K, 6 saves) will be back in business, while Justin Hauer (3-0, 1.41 ERA, 41 K), Ryan Camp (3-2, 3.33 ERA) and Brad Sorkin (4-2, 4.27 ERA) also return for the Redbirds.

Southern Illinois returns an experienced group of players including eight position starters and two starting pitchers from last year’s squad that won 23 contests. The Salukis welcome back Chris Serritella, who was sidelined in 2011 with a wrist injury, but finished in the top five in the league in eight offensive categories in 2010. Senior Jordan Sivertsen (OF) earned second team all-MVC honors after leading the team with a .302 average, nine home runs and 48 RBIs. On the mound, junior Cody Forsythe returns from a breakout season in which the lefty was named first team all-MVC after compiling an 8-5 record with a 2.35 ERA. He will be joined by Cameron Maldonado, who tied with Forsythe for the team lead with 69 strikeouts, and finished the season with five victories.

Bradley welcomes back seven position starters and eight pitchers from its 2011 team, led offensively by junior outfielder Mike Tauchman, a second team all-MVC pick a season ago, and the Braves returning leader in batting average (.343), RBI (32) and a .463 OBP. Junior Jason Leblebijian (.315, 64 H, 14 2B, 28 R) and senior Rob Elliott (.276, 49 R, 58 H, 3 3B, 28 SB) also return to the Bradley lineup. The veteran pitching staff will be led by seniors Joe Bircher, (6-6, 3.00 ERA, 71 K, 3 CG) a second team all-MVC pick in 2011, Jacob Booden (3-0, 5.36 ERA, 33 K), Tony Doerr (2-4, 4.14 ERA, 31 K) and John Nasshan (3-8, 4.55 ERA, 41 K). Junior Justin Ziegler returns as the Braves closer after setting the single-season record with eight saves in 2011.

Evansville took the biggest hit from graduation last season, as the Purple Aces return just two position starters to their lineup. The middle of the infield will provide the offensive punch for Evansville, as both Trentt Copeland (2B) and Eric Stamets (SS) return to the field. Copeland, a second team all-Valley selection in 2011, hit .308 with 17 doubles, 22 RBI and a .412 OPB. Stamets, one of the league’s top base stealing threats, hit .292 with 51 runs, 13 doubles, 21 RBI and 27 SB last season. Evansville returns two starting pitchers, in Cole Isom (5-6, 4.76 ERA, 38 K) and Kyle Lloyd (4-6, 4.93 ERA, 45 K).

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 2.

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