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2012 Preseason Ohio Valley Conference Poll and Preseason Team

BRENTWOOD, Tenn. — After winning the Ohio Valley Conference regular season and tournament championships a year ago, Austin Peay has been tabbed the 2012 preseason favorite for the 10-team league in a vote of OVC head baseball coaches. In additional voting Southeast Missouri State All-American senior third baseman Trenton Moses was named OVC Preseason Player of the Year while Jacksonville State senior closer Todd Hornsby 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 just six points separated first and second place. Austin Peay claimed seven of the 10 first-place votes and garnered 79 total points to be picked as the favorites. Jacksonville State was second with one first-place vote and 73 points while Tennessee Tech picked up the other two first-place votes and 63 total points to be picked third. Southeast Missouri was picked fourth (52) and was followed by SIUE (48), Eastern Kentucky (45), Eastern Illinois (34), UT Martin (25), Murray State (21) and Morehead State (10).

In all, 13 players were selected to the Preseason All-OVC team. The 13 players represented six of the 10 teams who will compete for the OVC championship this season. Jacksonville State led the way with five selections while Austin Peay had four picks. Eastern Kentucky, Morehead State, Southeast Missouri and UT Martin had one selection apiece. Returning players who were first-team selections at the end of last season were automatic picks for this year’s team.

After not making the OVC Tournament field in either 2009 or 2010 and being picked seventh in last year’s preseason poll, Austin Peay proved everyone wrong by compiling a 17-6 OVC record on its way to its sixth OVC regular season crown since divisional play ended. The Governors then captured the OVC Tournament Championship on its way to its fourth NCAA Tournament appearance. APSU would top host Georgia Tech in the first game of the Regional, before losing its next two games. Despite losing OVC Pitcher of the Year Jeremy Dobbs to the MLB First-Year Player Draft, the Govs return eight positional starters and three starting pitchers from last year’s team. The only positional player not returning is John Hogan, last year’s All-OVC first-team first baseman, who will redshirt this year with an injury. Among the returning players are four preseason All-OVC selections in sophomore second baseman Jordan Hankins (.351, 15 doubles), junior shortstop Reed Harper (.329, 17 doubles, 43 RBI and named to the Atlanta All-Region Team), senior outfielder Michael Blanchard (.333, 4 runs, 29 stolen bases) and senior starting pitcher Zach Toney (19 games, 6-3 record, 2 saves, 73 strikeouts). Austin Peay head coach Gary McClure returns for his 25th season as head coach at his alma mater; McClure is only 64 victories away from becoming the OVC’s all-time leader in wins.

Jacksonville State advanced to the championship round of the OVC Tournament a year ago but could not get past Austin Peay, finishing as the event’s runner-up. The Gamecocks did finish the 2011 season with 36 victories, reaching the 30-win plateau for the ninth-straight season, tied for the longest stretch in school history. This year 11th year head coach Jim Case returns 25 of 30 letterwinners from a year ago including eight positional starters and five pitchers. Five of the Gamecocks returning players were named to the Preseason All-OVC team including senior closer Todd Hornsby who was named Preseason OVC Pitcher of the Year. A season ago Hornsby saved 15 games, establishing a new OVC single-season record (breaking the old mark of 12). In just two seasons as the Jax State closer, Hornsby has saved 20 games, 11 off the OVC career record. Overall he appeared in 30 games a season ago, winning five games and compiling a 2.16 E.R.A. Joining Hornsby on the preseason All-OVC team are senior catcher Sam Eberle (.356, 88 hits, 54 RBI), senior first baseman Ben Waldrip (.344, 66 hits, 10 home runs, 46 RBI), senior outfielder Kyle Bluestein (.346, 55 hits, 7 home runs, 38 RBI) and senior starting pitcher Aaron Elias (15 games, 7-3, 3.78 E.R.A., 71 strikeouts).

After winning 25 games overall and finishing fourth in the OVC standings, Tennessee Tech returns 16 letterwinners and eight positional starters for the 2012 season. This year the Golden Eagles will look at sophomore first baseman Zach Stephens to once again provide offensive pop with his bat. In his rookie season Stephens hit .310 with 65 hits, 10 home runs and 49 RBI; the 10 home runs and 49 RBI each led the TTU team. Following the year Stephens was named a Freshman All-American by Collegiate Baseball newspaper. On the mound junior Tristan Archer returns after winning seven games a season ago and striking out 67 batters in 88.2 innings of work. Head coach Matt Bragga, now in his ninth year with the team, is looking to lead the team to another championship season after winning the 2009 OVC Tournament championship and the 2010 OVC regular season crown.

A year ago Southeast Missouri finished second in the Conference (14-8), appeared in its 17th-straight OVC Tournament and won 34 games overall, the third-most in program history. It marked the ninth time in 17 seasons under head coach Mark Hogan that the team had reached the 30-win plateau. The team’s potent offense ranked 10th nationally in batting (.316) and eighth in home runs (1.02/game). The Redhawks are led by third baseman Trenton Moses, who was named OVC Player of the Year at the end of the season and named Preseason OVC Player of the Year this season. Moses was named an All-American by each Louisville Slugger and College Baseball Lineup following his outstanding junior season. Moses hit .395 with 70 hits, 44 runs, 14 doubles, 11 home runs and 53 RBI. He hit .405 during the regular season, becoming the first Southeast Missouri player to do that since 2003. Including Moses the Redhawks return just 10 total players this season, after having a senior-laden team in 2011. Hogan needs just 12 victories during the season to reach 900 for his career (which includes 30 years overall, the past 17 at SEMO).

SIUE is the newcomer to the OVC schedule this year, playing its first full Conference slate of games since officially joining the Conference on July 1, 2008. The Cougars are in the final year of reclassification from Division II to Division I and are ineligible for OVC or NCAA postseason play, but the team can win the OVC regular season crown this season. They will be fully eligible for postseason play in 2013, when Belmont also joins the league to give the OVC 11 baseball-playing members. Last year SIUE played 19 games against OVC teams, compiling a 15-4 record, which would have placed them first in the OVC had they been eligible for the crown. Head coach Gary Collins enters his 34th season as head coach at his alma meter in 2012; he won his 1,000th career game last season. Among his 20 returning players this year is senior third baseman Zach Hawkins who led the team in hitting last year (.345), sophomore outfielder Devin Caldwell who was named a Louisville Slugger Freshman All-American after hitting .314 with 16 doubles and 53 RBI and sophomore pitcher Travis Felax who won five games and compiled a 2.62 E.R.A. in 13 appearances last season.

Eastern Kentucky has qualified for back-to-back OVC Tournaments under head coach Jason Stein, who is entering the fourth season at his alma mater in 2012; the Colonels appeared in its record 27th Championship a season ago. The team did lose its top pitcher from last season, first-team All-OVC pick Stephen Hefler, but the squad does return eight other pitchers and all nine positional starters this season. Among the returners is senior outfielder and preseason All-OVC selection Jacob Daniel (.330, 66 hits, 9 home runs, 44 RBI), senior shortstop Richie Rodriguez (.357, 82 hits, 44 runs, 14 doubles, 26 RBI, 19 stolen bases), who was a second-team All-OVC pick last year and has been a mainstay in the Colonel lineup the past three years, and sophomore third baseman Bryan Soloman (.310, 66 hits, 17 doubles, 9 home runs, 40 RBI) who was named the OVC Rookie of the Year and a Louisville Slugger Freshman All-American last season. The pitching staff will be bolstered by senior Matt Harris, who was 2-0 with one save and a 0.59 E.R.A. against OVC competition last season.

A season ago Eastern Illinois finished seventh in the league and missed out on the six-team OVC Tournament field by .007 percentage points. This season head coach Jim Schmitz, now in his 18th year with the program, has six positional starters and four starting pitchers returning to his program. Among the returning pitchers is senior Mike Hoekstra who won five games and struck out 50 in 82.2 innings of work a season ago. As a sophomore Hoekstra walked just five batters in 67 innings of work, setting a new OVC record for fewest walks in a season. Senior outfielder Ben Thoma is back for his final season in a Panther uniform; last season he had 11 home runs and 37 RBI, both of which were tops on the Eastern Illinois squad.

On the final day of last season UT Martin overcame a 5-0 deficit in the seventh inning to beat league champion Austin Peay and earn a spot in the six-team OVC Tournament field. It marked only the second OVC Tournament berth for the Skyhawks since joining the league in 1993 and first since the 1996 season. Among the team’s returning players this year is sophomore designated hitter Phil Sorensen, a preseason All-OVC selection this year after being a first-team All-OVC pick last year. Sorensen hit .340 with 50 hits, 15 doubles and 33 RBI in his rookie season with the Skyhawks. Also returning is senior catcher Chase Okey (.307, 58 hits, 32 RBI) and senior outfielder Jordan Owen (26 career home runs, including 18 in 2010). The UT Martin pitching staff will include Dan Tobik (a team-high 91.0 innings last year), Alex Boshers (4 wins, 2 saves in 24 appearances) and Alec Mills (7 wins, 3 saves in 30 appearances). Head coach Bubba Cates enters his 14th season at UTM and 23rd year overall as a head coach in 2012.

Murray State finished with nine Conference victories last year, just missing the OVC Tournament field. This season head coach Rob McDonald, who in the ninth year at his alma mater, will look to get the Thoroughbreds back into title contention. The team returns its top two hitters from a season ago, junior infielder Brandon Elliott and junior outfielder Paul Ritzheimer. Elliott finished third in the OVC in batting (.384) last season, compiling 61 hits, 40 runs, 11 doubles and 22 RBI in 45 games. Ritzheimer, who won the prestigious OVC Scholar-Athlete Award last year, hit .336 with 27 runs and 27 RBI as a sophomore.

Jay Sorg’s Morehead State team will look to replace the offensive firepower of catcher Taylor Davis, who ranked eighth nationally in batting (.414) and sixth in slugging (.736) before being signed by the Chicago Cubs in the offseason. The Eagles do return Preseason All-OVC pick Andrew Deeds to bolster the attack. The senior Deeds, who sees action as both a third baseman and outfielder, was 40th nationally in batting average (.380) last season and ranked eighth nationally in triples/game (0.14). Overall Deeds had 70 hits, 44 runs, 17 doubles, 5 home runs and 49 RBI in 49 games in 2011. Also returning are the brother tandem of Eric and Luke Bainer who combined for 95 hits, 52 runs, 20 doubles, seven home runs and 50 RBI a season ago.

The 64th season of OVC baseball will get underway on Friday, Feb. 17 with the first weekend of league play being held March 23-25. This year marks the first of the OVC playing three-game Conference series over three days (Friday, Saturday, Sunday) as opposed to playing a doubleheader on Saturday and a single game on Sunday. The season will culminate with the 2012 OVC Championship which will be held for the third 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 23-27.

2012 OVC Baseball Predicted Order of Finish
1. Austin Peay (7 first-place votes) – 79
2. Jacksonville State (1) – 73
3. Tennessee Tech (2) – 63
4. Southeast Missouri – 52
5. SIUE – 48
6. Eastern Kentucky – 45
7. Eastern Illinois – 34
8. UT Martin – 25
9. Murray State – 21
10. Morehead State – 10

2012 Preseason All-OVC Baseball Team
Preseason OVC Player of the Year: Trenton Moses (3B), Southeast Missouri
Preseason OVC Pitcher of the Year: Todd Hornsby (RHP), Jacksonville State

C – Sam Eberle, Jacksonville State
1B – Ben Waldrip, Jacksonville State
2B – Jordan Hankins, Austin Peay
SS – Reed Harper, Austin Peay
3B – Trenton Moses, Southeast Missouri
OF – Jacob Daniel, Eastern Kentucky
OF – Kyle Bluestein, Jacksonville State
OF – Michael Blanchard, Austin Peay
DH – Phil Sorensen, UT Martin
UT – Andrew Deeds, Morehead State
SP – Zach Toney, Austin Peay
SP – Aaron Elias, Jacksonville State
RP – Todd Hornsby, Jacksonville State

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