March 22, 2012
Creighton Game Notes
Missouri State Game Notes
Missouri State Bears (16-6, 0-0 MVC) vs. Creighton Bluejays (11-7, 0-0 MVC)
Dates/Times: Friday, March 23 (6:30 p.m.)
Saturday, March 24 (2 p.m.)
Sunday, March 25 (1 p.m.)
Location: Springfield, Mo.
Site: Hammons Field (8,000)
TV (Friday): Mediacom MC-22 (Don West, Mike McClure)
Radio: KBFL 1060 AM (Art Hains)
Live Video (Friday): Bears All-Access
Live Stats: MissouriStateBears.com
The Missouri State Bears (16-6, 0-0 MVC) will open Missouri Valley Conference play on a four-game win streak Friday when they host the Creighton Bluejays (11-7, 0-0 MVC) to open the league slate and a three-game series at Hammons Field. The Bears were the MVC coaches' preseason choice to capture the conference crown, while Creighton claimed Valley regular-season and tournament titles in 2011.
The series should be appealing to those who favor pitching and defense, as both clubs rank among the league leaders in both team earned run average and fielding percentage. The Bears lead the Valley and rank 20th nationally in team ERA (2.63), while the Bluejays boast the fourth-best mark (3.69) in the MVC. Creighton, on the other hand, brings the No. 11 fielding percentage (.980) in the country and the best in the circuit into the weekend. MSU has been strong with the leather as well, ranking third in the MVC in the same department after registering six-consecutive games without an error.
♦ MSU brings its best start into Valley play since 2008, when it opened the league slate with a 12-4 mark
♦ The Bears have won six straight Valley openers and five of their last six MVC-opening weekend series
♦ Creighton holds a 40-38 edge in the series, but the Bears have won each of the last two series played in Springfield and five of the previous nine meetings between the two clubs at Hammons Field
♦ The Bears have not committed an error over their last six games, including a stretch of 226 defensive chances
♦ MSU ranked third nationally in strikeouts per nine innings and 20th in earned run average entering the week
♦ The Missouri State bullpen has posted a 0.56 ERA over the Bears' last 14 games and has not allowed a run since March 10 vs. SIU Edwardsville, a span of 16.1 consecutive scoreless innings over six contests
♦ Eight different Bears owned a share of an MVC lead in one statistical category or another entering the week
♦ Sophomore RHP Nick Petree posted his second-straight combined shutout March 17 vs. ORU to run his streak of consecutive scoreless innings to a career-long 14.0
♦ Junior RHP Pierce Johnson became the first pitcher in school history to record three-straight outings of 10 or more strikeouts March 15 when he matched a career high with 12 K's at ORU
The Bluejays hold a narrow 40-38 edge in the series with the Bears. Missouri State has won each of the last two series played in Springfield and five of the previous nine meetings between the two clubs at Hammons Field since the Bears moved into the park in 2004.
Creighton took five of six contests from the Bears last year, despite the two clubs posting identical run totals (22) in the season series. The Bluejays swept the teams' three-game set to lock up the MVC title on the final weekend of the regular-season, then took two of three meetings at the Valley Tournament.
About the Bears
Following a disappointing end to an otherwise memorable bounceback 2011 season, Missouri State entered the new year as the preseason choice to capture the Missouri Valley Conference regular-season title for the fourth time in the last 12 seasons.
After a rough start to opening weekend in Lubbock, Texas, the Bears rebounded to win 11 of their next 12 games to post their best start to a season since 1995. Senior outfielder Spiker Helms (.333, 3-HR, 16-RBI) ranks among the MVC's top 10 performers in a number of different offensive categories, including a league-leading totals in doubles (9) and runs scored (26). He recorded a career-best 11-game hit streak from Feb. 18-March 6. Fellow senior Brock Chaffin (.310, 18-RBI) has come on strong as of late, hitting .328 with 17 RBIs over the Bears' last 16 games, while junior catcher Luke Voit (.289, 3-HR, 23-RBI) has hits in seven-straight games, as well as a team-high five game-winning RBIs and 16 for his MSU career to rank ninth on the Bears' career list. Senior second baseman Kevin Medrano (.247, 6-2B) returned from an early three-game hiatus with hits in six straight trips to the plate (Feb. 26-29) to break into the Bears' top 10 for career hits. Additionally, his six doubles are tied for 10th in the Valley. Senior third baseman Brent Seifert (.272, 3-HR, 21-RBI) is second on the club in RBIs and has reached base safely in 21 of the Bears' 22 games, while junior outfielder Keenen Maddox (.306) has hit .368 with all six of his RBIs over his last six starts.
The Bears' top three starting pitchers have been strong through the first five weeks of the season, combining to strike-out 122 batters through 112.1 innings of work. Nick Petree (4-1, 1.54), who went 9-2 with a 2.81 ERA to garner Freshman All-America honors last spring, picked up his fourth-straight victory last Saturday and his second-consecutive combined shutout in MSU's 5-0 win over ORU. Junior right-hander Pierce Johnson (1-3, 2.41) has shown stretches of dominance in each of his five outings this season. On Feb. 25, he held UTA hitless through five innings before leaving after seven innings with a no-decision. He's been even stronger over his last three starts, fanning 35 over 23.1 innings to lead the MVC in strikeouts (50) and rank third nationally. Junior righty Clay Murphy (3-1, 1.80, 1 save) permitted just two earned runs over his first 25.1 innings this year and defeated Oklahoma State for the second time in seven days March 6. Murphy leads the MVC in innings pitched (40.0) and ranks third in strikeouts (40) and fifth in ERA (1.80). Finally, the Bears' bullpen has been just as dominant as the starting rotation, fashioning a string of 16 1/3 consecutive scoreless innings ove rthe last six games, and a 0.61 ERA over the last 14 outings. Freshman lefty Tyler Burgess (3-0, 0.00, 4 saves) has been sensational in his MSU debut to lead the group, notching a victory or a save in each of his first seven appearances as a Bear without allowing an earned run.
About the Bluejays
Creighton is off to an 11-7 start, thanks in large part to its trademark combination of pitching and defense. The defending MVC champions return 18 letterwinners from last year's 45-16 club that posted a 2-1 win over Georgia in its NCAA Regional using the same formula. This year's version of the Bluejays leads the Valley with a .980 fielding percentage--just as last year's club did--and rates fourth in the league with a team ERA of 3.69. CU has been adequate at the plate as well, hitting .261 with a conference-best eight triples coming into league play. Pacing that attack has been senior first baseman Nick Judkins (.386, HR, 18-RBI), who leads the MVC in on-base percentage (.494) and triples (2). He's been solid in the field as well anchoring the `Jays infield with a league-leading 192 putouts while posting a .995 fielding average. Another veteran infielder, senior third baseman Chance Ross (.299, 22-R, 5-SB) drives the CU offense from the leadoff spot, ranking fourth in the MVC in runs scored. Additionally, sophomore outfielder Mike Gerber (.212, 2-HR, 15-RBI), senior catcher Anthony Bemboom (.284, HR, 13-RBI) and junior shortstop Alex Staehely (.203, 13-RBI) provide much of the Bluejays' run production, combining to account for 29 runs scored and 41 RBIs.
On the mound, junior left-hander Ty Blach (3-1, 1.60) has been a solid No. 1 starter for the Bluejays, boasting the fifth-best ERA in the MVC after claiming second-team all-conference honors in 2011. Right-handers Andrew Urban (1-1, 2.55) and Nick Musec (3-0, 5.12) round out the CU weekend rotation. The Bluejays rely on a deep and talented bullpen consisting of four different relievers who have made at least seven appearances on the year. Leading the pack has been senior righty Reese McGraw (2-2, 2.40, 3 saves), who ranks sixth in the MVC in saves, and junior lefty Mark Winkelman (1-0, 3.45) who leads the conference with 12 appearances on the season.
Lights, Camera, Action!
Three Missouri State games will be televised live on Mediacom MC-22 in southwest Missouri in 2012, beginning with Friday's series opener. Additionally, MSU's April 11 game with Kansas State and its April 25 contest against Missouri will also be broadcast by Mediacom, with Don West and Mike McClure describing the action.
Hello, Old Friend
There should be few surprises this weekend, as nine of the Bears' last 10 games against Valley opponents will have been against Creighton by the end of the weekend. The two squads wrapped up the 2011 regular season with a three-game set, then faced each other three more times in last year's State Farm MVC Championship. Each of those contests took place on the Bluejays' home field, with CU taking five of the six games.
Watch the Leather, Man
The Bears' rebound from an 0-2 start has come thanks in large part to a standout team defensive effort. Over its last six games, the MSU defense has been flawless, going errorless in 226 chances in the field, for its longest such streak in the last decade.
MSU has committed just 17 errors in 795 chances in the field to go 16-4 over its last 20 games, good for a .979 fielding percentage. Additionally, the Bears have turned 16 of their 18 double plays on the year over the 20-game stretch.
In its Feb. 19, win over Texas Tech, MSU accounted for four of those twin-killings, marking the first time the Bears achieved that feat since March 4, 2007, when they posted a 6-3 win over Middle Tennessee. Joey Hawkins was involved in all four DPs, just missing the school record held by Ryan Howard (3/30/99).
In addition to its work in the field, Missouri State's pitching has played a key role its current hot streak. Over their last 14 games, the Bears have posted a 1.71 team ERA. Entering Friday's game, Bears pitchers have posted three-straight double-digit strikeout totals for the first time since May 2010. That MSU staff accomplished the feat on two separate occasions, racking up five consecutive contests of 10 or more strikeouts to begin the year, then fanning 37 over a three-game stretch, May 4-8, against Missouri and Illinois State.
Last weekend, MSU pitchers combined to hold ORU scoreless for 18 1/3 straight and struck-out 41 Golden Eagles while allowing just six runs total over 35.0 IP innings during the two clubs' four-game series. The Bears limited the Golden Eagles to a .208 batting average, while MSU was errorless in the field in 148 chances.
What a Relief
Missouri State's bullpen has given new meaning to the word relief over the last three weeks to help the Bears to their best start in more than a decade. Since February 29, five MSU relievers have combined to post a 0.56 earned run average, allowing just two earned runs on 18 hits while striking-out 32 hitters over 32.0 innings. Over the same stretch, the Bears have gone 11-3, with the five relievers splitting six saves, and junior right-hander Grant Gordon going 3-0.
The Bears' starting rotation hasn't been too shabby either. Over the same 14-game stretch, MSU starters have gone 8-3 with a 2.03 ERA and 100 strikeouts in 93.0 innings of work. None of the Bears' four starting pitchers have given up more than four earned runs during the stretch, while both Clay Murphy and Pierce Johnson have delivered complete-game efforts, and Nick Petree has recorded a pair of combined shutouts and three victories as part of his current four-game win streak.
New Blood Delivers New Life
One of the key factors in the early success of the Bears' mound corps has been the boost it has received from its newest members, particularly in the bullpen. Freshmen Tyler Burgess and Zach Merciez, and junior transfer Erik Shannahan have been nearly unhittable over the first five weeks of the season. The trio has combined for seven saves, while allowing just five earned runs over 35.2 innings spanning 21 appearances, good for a miniscule 1.26 ERA. They've been dominant against left-handed batters, combining to hold the opposition to just one hit in 37 at-bats from the left side, or a .027 batting average. Additionally, Burgess and Shannahan are a combined 3-0 with five saves and have yet to allow a run in 14 combined outings, spanning 20.1 innings to begin their MSU careers.
Merciez teamed up with sophomore right-hander Nick Petree on the teams' first shutout of the season March 9 vs. SIU Edwardsville, and Burgess combined with Petree on his second-straight shutout, March 17 vs. ORU. Finally, junior transfer Cody Schumacher gave the Bears a lift with seven shutout innings March 4 at Northwestern State to earn his second-straight victory and complete a three-game road sweep of the Demons.