Eastern Illinois Tabbed As Ohio Valley Favorite
The overall voting in the preseason poll was close as three different teams received first-place votes. Eastern Illinois garnered three first-place votes and 59 total points in being picked the favorites. Jacksonville State got the most first-place vote (4), but finished three points (56) behind Eastern Illinois in being picked second overall. Tennessee Tech, last year’s OVC Tournament Champions, picked up the other two first-place votes and finished third in the predicted order of finish with 51 points. Murray State was picked fourth (43), followed by Morehead State (33), Eastern Kentucky (26), Southeast Missouri (25), Austin Peay (22) and UT Martin (9).
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. Murray State led the way with four selections while Jacksonville State had three picks. Returning players who were first-team selections at the end of last season were automatic picks for this year’s team.
After winning the 2008 OVC Tournament Championship, Eastern Illinois ran through the regular season last year picking up several impressive non-conference wins (Illinois and No. 15 Oklahoma among those) before compiling a 13-5 OVC record on its way to the 2009 OVC Regular Season Title. It was the program’s first regular season title since 2001 and fourth since joining the league. The Panthers, however, lost two games at the OVC Tournament and came up just short of an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. In its quest to reach the NCAA Tournament once again, EIU returns 16 players from last year and brings in 18 talented newcomers. Gone are 2009 OVC Player of the Year Jordan Kreke, All-American outfielder Brett Nommensen and Comp Round A First-Year Amateur Draft pick Tyler Kehrer; returning are senior utility man Richie Derbak (.417, 78 hits, 12 doubles, 5 home runs in 2009) who will help to bolster the offense while two of the top pitchers in the league – Josh Mueller and Mike Recchia – should make the Panthers one of the top pitching teams in the OVC. Mueller (8-1, 4.85 ERA, 78.0 IP, 64 K’s) was tabbed OVC Preseason Co-Pitcher of the Year after a great sophomore season that drew the eyes of professional scouts. The senior Recchia (8-2, 3.02 ERA, 65.2 IP, 62 K’s) was a first-team All-OVC selection last season for the Panthers and is on the preseason team this season.
Jacksonville State, last year’s preseason favorites, struggled down the stretch last season, losing its last eight regular season games and finishing as the No. 6 seed for the OVC Tournament. The Gamecocks bounced back in the tournament, winning several games before falling to Tennessee Tech in the championship contest. Head coach Jim Case has 20 returning letterwinners from last year’s squad, including eight positional starters and three pitchers back. Although All-American and third round MLB Draft pick Ben Tootle is gone from the starting rotation, senior Austin Lucas and sophomore Tanner Freshour return; last year the duo combined for 10 wins and 140 innings of work. JSU also has first-team All-OVC reliever Bill Henke returning (9 saves). The strength of this year’s Gamecock squad will be offense, which starts with junior outfielder Todd Cunningham, who led the prestigious Cape Cod league in batting (.378) this past summer. He was tabbed a first-team preseason All-America by Baseball America earlier this month. Cunningham is joined in the outfield by preseason All-OVC pick Daniel Adamson (.322, 10 home runs, 14 stolen bases) and sophomore Kyle Bluestein, who led the team in batting average (.393) on his way to OVC Rookie of the Year honors in 2009. Also back are senior second baseman Bert Smith and senior closer Alex Jones, who each missed last season with injuries. Smith (.332, 13 doubles, 15 stolen bases) and Jones (8 saves) were each first-team All-OVC picks in 2008.
Tennessee Tech became the first No. 5 seed to win the OVC Tournament last season, winning all four of its games including two exciting extra inning affairs. It marked the first OVC Tournament title for the program since 2001. After winning the OVC Championship a year ago, the Golden Eagles matched up with Clemson in the NCAA Regional, losing two games to the Tigers sandwiched between a victory over nationally-ranked Alabama in an elimination game. Tech’s pitching staff is highlighted by preseason All-OVC pick Lee Henry, who was 9-3 with a 3.43 E.R.A. last year. Henry also had two of Tennessee Tech’s victories at the OVC Tournament. The offense is led by junior A.J. Kirby-Jones, who set a school record with 20 home runs last season. Kirby-Jones, the MVP of the OVC Tournament, also pitched 49 innings in 2009, recording three wins and three saves.
Murray State led the way with four selections on the preseason All-OVC squad, including senior first baseman Wes Cunningham (.411, 79 hits, 11 home runs, 52 RBI), senior outfielder Daniel Hill (.344, 63 hits, 12 doubles, 16 home runs, 69 RBI), senior designated hitter Jason Laws (.373, 57 hits, 39 RBI) and senior pitcher Chris Craycraft (10-3. 4.05 E.R.A., 100 IP, 80 K’s). Craycraft was also selected the 2010 Preseason OVC Co-Pitcher of the Year after his dominant junior season that saw him earn second-team All-OVC honors. Craycraft was part of the staff last season that had 15 complete games, the most in the OVC. The Thoroughbreds also led the league with a 4.53 team E.R.A., which was 0.41 less than the second place team in the Conference. The team will have to replace the production of 2009 OVC Pitcher of the Year Daniel Calhoun, who was 11th
nationally in E.R.A. last season (2.32) and was drafted in the 29th round by the St. Louis Cardinals.
Under the direction of head coach Jay Sorg, who enters his third season with the Eagles in 2010, Morehead State has made a turnaround, advancing to the OVC Tournament field last season for the first time since 2005. Morehead State returns 20 letterwinners from last year’s squad that was 12-10 in league play (third place). At the top of the MSU potent lineup is All-American shortstop Drew Lee, who set the Morehead State record for hits in a season last year (86) while hitting .417 with 18 doubles, 17 home runs, 67 RBI and a .764 slugging percentage. Lee was named a preseason All-American by Louisville Slugger and Ping!Baseball. Lee was also selected as the OVC Preseason Co-Player of the Year. Joining Lee on the All-OVC preseason team is senior outfielder J.D. Ashbrook (.371, 75 hits, 16 doubles, 14 home runs, 36 RBI). Senior utility player Michael Bottoms provides both pop with his bat (.350, 75 hits, 8 home runs, 61 RBI) and stability on the mound (team-best 4.15 ERA in 52 innings last season).
Eastern Kentucky won 27 games a season ago under first-year head coach Jason Stein but missed out on qualifying for the OVC Tournament field due to a tiebreaker. Stein will look to junior third baseman Jayson Langfels, the OVC Preseason Co-Player of the Year, to provide offensive pop. Langfels ranked first nationally a season ago in RBI per game (1.67), third in batting average (.441) and sixth nationally in slugging (.800). Langfels also had 75 hits, 45 runs scored, six triples, 12 home runs, 72 RBI and 16 stolen bases during the campaign. He is one of six positional starters back for the Colonels this season. That number also includes sophomore shortstop Richie Rodriguez, an OVC All-Freshman Team pick last season. On the mound junior Paul Duncan (7-6, 6.01 ERA in 76.1 IP) is EKU’s top returning starter.
If the Southeast Missouri Redhawks are one thing it is consistent, as they have qualified for 15-straight OVC Baseball Tournaments, a league record. Those have all come under the direction of head coach Mark Hogan, who enters his 16th year as the team’s skipper in 2010. The strength of the Redhawks is senior catcher/closer Jim Klocke, arguably the top catcher in the league. The OVC Rookie of the Year in 2007, Klocke has been a first-team All-OVC pick each of the last two years. Last season he hit .394 with 74 hits, 56 runs scored, 20 doubles, 9 home runs and 46 RBI. Klocke also took on a new role as his team’s closer, appearing in 17 games and amassing seven saves in 23.2 innings of work. He struck out 22 and walked only seven in his time on the mound. Drafted by his hometown St. Louis Cardinals, Klocke decided to return to college for his final
year and has been named a preseason All-American by Louisville Slugger.
Austin Peay saw a streak of 10 consecutive OVC Tournament appearances end last season when the team finished 7-12 in league play. Head coach Gary McClure, who is in his 23rd season with the Governors, will have 23 letterwinners back from last year’s team, including nine positional starters and five starting pitchers. Among those returners is senior catcher Trey Lucas (.382, 20 doubles, 35 RBI), senior first baseman Matt Kole (.333, 9 home runs, 42 RBI) and 2009 OVC All-Freshman Team honoree Jon Clinard (.287, 22 stolen bases). On the mound junior Ryne Harper won four games and had a team-low 4.12 E.R.A. last season.
UT Martin won 21 games overall last season, the program’s highest total since joining the Ohio Valley Conference in the 1993 season. Head coach Victor “Bubba” Cates has 13 letterwinners back from last year’s team including senior catcher Ty Nelson (.345, 6 home runs, 27 RBI) and junior utility man Wes Patterson (.331, 11 home runs, 47 RBI).
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 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 seven of the nine other OVC schools.
The 62nd season of OVC baseball will get underway on Friday, Feb. 19 with the first weekend of league play being held March 27-28. The season will culminate with the 2010 OVC Tournament which will be held for the first time at Pringles Park in Jackson, Tenn. Pringles Park is the home of the West Tenn Diamond Jaxx, the Double-A affiliate of the Seattle Mariners. The tournament runs May 26-30.
2010 OVC Preseason Predicted Order of Finish
1. Eastern Illinois (3 first-place votes) – 59
2. Jacksonville State (4) – 56
3. Tennessee Tech (2) – 51
4. Murray State – 43
5. Morehead State – 33
6. Eastern Kentucky – 26
7. Southeast Missouri – 25
8. Austin Peay – 22
9. UT Martin – 9
2010 OVC Preseason All-OVC Team
Preseason OVC Co-Player of the Year: Drew Lee, Morehead State
Preseason OVC Co-Player of the Year: Jayson Langfels, Eastern Kentucky
Preseason OVC Co-Pitcher of the Year: Chris Craycraft, Murray State
Preseason OVC Co-Pitcher of the Year: Josh Mueller, Eastern Illinois
C – Jim Klocke, Southeast Missouri
1B – Wes Cunningham, Murray State
2B – Bert Smith, Jacksonville State
SS – Drew Lee, Morehead State
3B – Jayson Langfels, Eastern Kentucky
OF – Daniel Hill, Murray State
OF – J.D. Ashbrook, Morehead State
OF – Daniel Adamson, Jacksonville State
DH – Jason Laws, Murray State
UT – Richie Derbak, Eastern Illinois
SP – Mike Recchia, Eastern Illinois
SP – Chris Craycraft, Murray State
SP – Lee Henry, Tennessee Tech
RP – Bill Henke, Jacksonville State