FROM CBD NEWS SOURCE
BRENTWOOD, Tenn. — After winning the Ohio Valley Conference regular season championship a season ago and returning six positional starters this year Tennessee Tech has been tabbed the 2014 preseason favorite for the 11-team league in a vote of OVC head baseball coaches and sports information directors. In additional voting TTU senior first baseman Zach Stephens was named OVC Preseason Player of the Year for the second-consecutive season while Jacksonville State closer Travis Stout was tabbed OVC Preseason Pitcher of the Year.
Tennessee Tech took home 19 of the 22 first-place votes while Austin Peay (2) and Eastern Kentucky (1) picked up the other three votes. Overall the Golden Eagles received 199 total points to be picked the favorite. Three-time defending tournament champion Austin Peay (164) was picked second followed by Belmont (158), Jacksonville State (154) and Eastern Kentucky (139). The poll was rounded out by Southeast Missouri (104), Eastern Illinois (96), SIUE (67), Morehead State (58), Murray State (51) and UT Martin (20).
In all, 15 players were selected to the Preseason All-OVC team. The 15 players represented seven of the 11 teams who will compete for the OVC championship this season. Tennessee Tech led the way with six selections, followed by Jacksonville State with three and Belmont with two. Eastern Illinois, Eastern Kentucky, Morehead State and SIUE had one selection apiece.
Tennessee Tech set a new OVC single-season record with 24 Conference victories a season ago on the way to its eighth overall title. The Golden Eagles also won a school record 40 overall games in ranking 10th nationally in scoring (7.3 runs/game). Head coach Matt Bragga, who was named 2013 OVC Coach of the Year and returns for his 11th season this year, has six returning positional starters, five of whom were named to the Preseason All-OVC team. That group is led by Stephens, the senior first baseman who was named OVC Preseason Player of the Year for the second-straight season. A season ago he ranked third nationally in RBI/game (1.25) and 14th in home runs/game (0.26) while hitting .336 with 71 RBI. This preseason he has been named a Preseason All-American by both Collegiate Baseball and the NCBWA. The other preseason All-OVC selections from TTU are second baseman Zach Zarzour (.300, 11 doubles, 27 RBI), shortstop Dylan Bosheers (.329, 71 hits, 46 RBI), third baseman Daniel Miles (.337, 67 hits, 43 runs, 12 HR, 53 RBI), designated hitter Brandon Thomasson (.275, 64 hits, 54 runs, 19 2B, 12 HR, 52 RBI) and closer Seth Lucio (1.83 E.R.A., 12 saves). The Golden Eagles have been ranked 36th nationally in the Collegiate Baseball Preseason Top 40.
Austin Peay put together one of the best seasons in OVC history a year ago, winning 47 games, being ranked nationally in three different season-ending polls and earning the No. 2 seed in the NCAA Bloomington Regional. The Govs claimed a third-straight OVC Tournament crown and gave host Indiana all it could handle in the Regional Final before falling to the eventual College World Series participant. The team ranked among the national leaders in batting average (.312) and on-base percentage (.399) before having a program record five players selected in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft. This season head coach Gary McClure, who became the winningest coach in OVC history last year, returns for his 27th season and welcomes 17 newcomers to his team to join a group of 15 letterwinners (including two positional starters and four starting pitchers). Among the players to watch is senior pitcher Zach Hall, who was 8-2 in 19 appearances (15 starts) a season ago. Offensively he returns catcher P.J. Torres who hit .273 with 11 doubles, seven home runs and 35 RBI a season ago.
In its inaugural season in the OVC in 2013, Belmont compiled a 38-20 overall record and 22-8 Conference mark (tied for third). The Bruins return seven positional starters and eight total pitchers from last year’s team including two Preseason All-OVC picks in junior pitchers Dan Ludwig and Austin Coley. Ludwig led the OVC and ranked 15th nationally in wins a season ago, compiling an 11-2 record and 3.83 E.R.A. in 20 appearances (14 starts); he struck out 72 and walked just 26 in 94 innings of work. Coley was a perfect 6-0 in 10 starts before suffering a season-ending injury in late April; he compiled a 3.32 E.R.A. and struck out 65 batters while walking just 14 in 57 innings of work. Among the returning positional players is junior outfielder Alec Diamond who led the team with a .351 average a season ago.
Jacksonville State finished in a tie for third in the OVC a season ago (22-8) and returns 22 letterwinners this season, including six positional starters and 10 total pitchers. Entering his 13th season as head coach Jim Case had three players selected to the Preseason All-OVC squad in Preseason Pitcher of the Year Stout and outfielders Michael Bishop and Griff Gordon. Stout, already named a Preseason All-American this season, set a new JSU single-season saves record (17) a year ago, a mark that ranked second in OVC history; he also had a 3-0 record and 1.42 E.R.A. in earning multiple postseason All-American honors. Bishop, named a Louisville Slugger Preseason All-American this year, also earned All-American honors in 2013 after hitting .340 with 21 doubles, 26 RBI and 17 stolen bases during the campaign. Gordon, in his first year with the team, compiled a team-best .341 batting average to go along with 47 runs scored and 40 RBI.
With a roster of young players a season ago, Eastern Kentucky wound up playing its best baseball at the end of the season as the Colonels won 14 of its final 20 OVC games to qualify for the OVC Tournament field. There the team advanced to the championship round before falling to Austin Peay. This season sixth year head coach Jason Stein has six positional starters and 11 total pitchers returning from that squad. Among those key returning players is senior catcher Sean Hagen who hit .353 with 41 RBI in being named a national semifinalist for the Gregg Olson Award and on the Johnny Bench Award Watch List; Hagen was a first-team All-OVC selection last year and a preseason All-OVC pick this season. Also back is 2013 OVC Freshman of the Year Kyle Nowlin, who earned 2013 Freshman All-American honors alongside teammates Kenny Hostrander, Luke Wurzelbacher and Doug Teegarden.
In the first season under head coach Steve Bieser, Southeast Missouri qualified for its 19th-consecutive OVC Tournament which was good enough to have the “interim” tag removed from his job title. This season he has all nine positional starters returning in addition to four total pitchers. Among his returning players is junior second baseman Jason Blum who earned Louisville Slugger Preseason All-American honors this season. Last season Blum started all 59 Redhawk games and hit .323 with 21 doubles, 33 RBI and nine stolen bases. Also back is outfielder/catcher Dalton Hewitt who led the team with a .345 batting average a season ago. The pitching staff gets a boost by the return of junior Christian Hull who missed all of last season with an injury; Hull appeared in 19 games, striking out 61 batters, in 2012.
Eastern Illinois just missed out on the six-team OVC Tournament field last year but looks to return to the event this season with 20 returning letterwinners. Included in that group are six positional starters and eight pitchers (four starters). The team had one selection to the Preseason All-OVC Team in junior outfielder Caleb Howell. Howell hit a team-high .362 last season in 46 contests. Another key offensive returning player is junior third baseman Brant Valach, who hit .332 with 35 RBI a season ago; Valach was the OVC Rookie of the Year in 2012. On the mound senior Joe Greenfield had four complete games last season as he worked 93.1 innings and had a 3.66 E.R.A. Greenfield was named one of the Top 50 senior prospects in the nation by Baseball American heading into the season. The team also returns pitchers Christian Slazinik and Troy Barton to the rotation after each missed all of last season due to injuries. Barton was 9-5 with a 3.20 E.R.A. in 17 appearances while Slazinik was 6-6 with a 4.50 E.R.A. in 15 starts in 2012.
Last season was the first that SIUE was eligible for OVC and NCAA postseason play. It was also the first for longtime assistant coach Tony Stoecklin as the program’s head coach. The team won 10 Conference games a year ago in finishing eighth in the league. Among the 18 total letterwinners returning is senior pitcher Travis Felax who was the team’s lone selection to the Preseason All-OVC Team. Felax started 11 games a year ago and compiled a 2.26 E.R.A. which was second in the Conference. He struck out 58 and walked on only six in 75.2 innings of work. Also back is Skyler Geissinger (49 hits, 12 doubles, 29 RBI) who was an OVC All-Freshman pick a year ago.
Morehead State won 10 OVC games in its first season under head coach Mike McGuire. This season the Eagles placed junior utility player Kane Sweeney on the Preseason All-OVC team. Sweeney led the team and ranked second in the OVC with a .376 batting average while also totaling 74 hits, 31 runs, 13 doubles, four home runs and 28 RBI in 53 starts. Also returning is Freshman All-American Alan Mocahbee who hit seven home runs and drove in 36 runs in his first season with MSU. Morehead State also returns redshirt sophomore pitcher Aaron Goe, who missed all of last season with an injury. Goe won a team-high six games in 2012 as he pitched 96.1 innings in 16 total appearances.
Murray State will looking to the mound for its strength this season as the squad has nine pitchers returning. Among those players is senior Cameron Finch who last season tossed the first nine-inning no-hitter in the OVC since 2003. Finch won five games and struck out 48 batters in 81.1 innings of work a season ago. Offensively, senior outfielder Ty Stetson is the team’s top returning hitter; Stetson hit .336 with 73 hits, 46 runs, nine doubles, three triples and 27 RBI a season ago.
UT Martin begins its first season under interim head coach Brad Goss, who previously served as an assistant coach with the program for nine years. Goss welcomes 17 newcomers to join a group of 18 returning players for 2014. Goss does return his leading hitter from a season ago in junior infielder Nico Zych. Zych started all 51 UTM games a season ago and hit .283 with 17 RBI and seven stolen bases. Among the pitchers to watch for the Skyhawks are juniors Dalton Potts (4 wins and 53 strikeouts in 62.2 innings pitched) and Taylor Cox (45 strikeouts in 57.1 innings).
The 66th season of OVC baseball will get underway on Friday, Feb. 14 with the first weekend of league play being held March 7-9. The season will culminate with the 2014 OVC Championship which will be held for the fifth year in a row at The Ballpark at Jackson in Jackson, Tenn. The venue is the home of the Jackson Generals, the Double-A affiliate of the Seattle Mariners. The tournament runs May 21-25.
2014 OVC Baseball Predicted Order of Finish
1. Tennessee Tech (19 first-place votes) – 199
2. Austin Peay (2) – 164
3. Belmont – 158
4. Jacksonville State – 154
5. Eastern Kentucky (1) – 139
6. Southeast Missouri – 104
7. Eastern Illinois – 96
8. SIUE – 67
9. Morehead State – 58
10. Murray State – 51
11. UT Martin – 20
2014 Preseason All-OVC Baseball Team
Preseason OVC Player of the Year: Zach Stephens (1B), Tennessee Tech
Preseason OVC Pitcher of the Year: Travis Stout (RHP), Jacksonville State
C – Sean Hagen, Eastern Kentucky
1B – Zach Stephens, Tennessee Tech
2B – Zach Zarzour, Tennessee Tech
SS – Dylan Bosheers, Tennessee Tech
3B – Daniel Miles, Tennessee Tech
OF – Michael Bishop, Jacksonville State
OF – Caleb Howell, Eastern Illinois
OF – Griff Gordon, Jacksonville State
DH – Brandon Thomasson, Tennessee Tech
UT – Kane Sweeney, Morehead State
SP – Dan Ludwig, Belmont
SP – Austin Coley, Belmont
SP – Travis Felax, SIUE
RP – Travis Stout, Jacksonville State
RP – Seth Lucio, Tennessee Tech