Bears Ready for First Valley Road Test at Bradley
April 5, 2012
Missouri State Bears (23-8, 3-0 MVC) at Bradley Braves (14-11-1, 1-2 MVC)
The Bears will be looking to buck a recent trend in the series that has seen the home club win the last nine meetings. Last year, MSU took all three meetings in a tightly-contested series at Hammons Field. Bradley, on the other hand, swept the Bears two years ago in their last visit to Peoria. Each of the last six meetings over the last two seasons has been decided by three runs or less.
Last year, the Bears prevailed in all three meetings despite hitting just .227 for the weekend. Missouri State won a pair of one-run contests to open the series, before claiming the finale by a 7-4 margin that represented the largest final run differential in the series in two years. Brock Chaffin homered twice and drove in four runs in that game, but MSU got the job done largely due to its work on the mound, holding BU to nine total runs in the series and posting a 2.00 team ERA. Nick Petree and Blake Barber each went eight innings to earn wins, while Pierce Johnson claimed a victory in the third game with four innings of solid relief.
About the Bears
After a rough start to opening weekend in Lubbock, Texas, the Bears rebounded to win 20 of their next 24 games to post their best start to a season in a decade. Junior outfielder Keenen Maddox brings a team-best .344 batting mark into the weekend after torching Arkansas State pitching in a two-game series earlier in the week. On Tuesday, Maddox homered twice and drove in four runs before notching his third-straight multi-hit game with a 3-for-4 effort Wednesday. Senior outfielder Spiker Helms (.322, 3-HR, 23-RBI) ranks among the MVC's top 10 performers in a number of different offensive categories, including a league-leading 15 doubles. He recorded a career-best 11-game hit streak from Feb. 18-March 6. Fellow senior Brock Chaffin (.281, 27-RBI) has nine multi-hit games, while junior catcher Luke Voit (.306, 3-HR, 27-RBI) has 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 (.301, 9-2B, 6-SB) has been hot at the plate lately after a sluggish start and shares the team lead in stolen bases, while fielding at a .992 clip. Senior third baseman Brent Seifert (.286, 5-HR, 28-RBI) leads the club in homers and RBIs and has reached base safely in 30 of the Bears' 31 games. Finally, sophomore outfielder Trey Massenberg (.294, 2-HR, 11-RBI, 5-3B) has blossomed in his second season as a Bear. He has an MVC-leading five triples and has scored nine times over MSU's last eight contests.
The Bears' top three starting pitchers have been strong through the first seven weeks of the season, combining to strike out 170 batters through 154.1 innings of work. Nick Petree (6-1, 1.06), who went 9-2 with a 2.81 ERA to garner Freshman All-America honors last spring, picked up his sixth-straight victory last Saturday at Dallas Baptist and leads the MVC in both wins and ERA. Junior right-hander Pierce Johnson (2-3, 2.01) has been dominant over his first seven starts of the season, bringing the nation's second-highest strikeout total into the week. However, forearm tightness plagued Johnson in his last start at Dallas Baptist and will force him to skip his normal Friday start this week. Junior righty Clay Murphy (4-1, 1.59, 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 ranks second in the MVC in both innings pitched (47.0) and ERA and third in strikeouts (47). Finally, the Bears' bullpen has been nearly as dominant, fashioning a string of 18 1/3 consecutive scoreless innings over nine outings (March 13-25), and a 0.53 ERA over a 17-game span (Feb. 29-March 25). Freshman lefty Tyler Burgess (3-0, 1.59, 6 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 Braves
Pacing the offense had been senior infielder Rob Elliott, who leads the club with a .365 average and 22 runs scored. The Braves active leader in a number of offensive categories, Elliott has not played in BU's last eight games due to injury, however. In his absence, as well as that of last year's leading hitter Mike Tauchman (also due to injury), the Braves have gotten a lift from freshman outfielder Max Murphy (.337, 5-HR, 18-RBI) and junior outfielder Bob Schuch (.293). Murphy, in particular, has carried the Braves, reaching base safely in each of his first 26 games as a Brave. Finally, junior infielder Jason Leblebijian and sophomore first baseman Greg Partyka give BU a power boost with seven homers and 47 RBIs between them.
On the hill, the Braves are led by senior lefty Joe Bircher (3-1, 2.96), who ranked second only to Pierce Johnson in the MVC and 11th nationally with 56 strikeouts coming into the week. Senior right-hander Danny Gifford (3-0, 3.52) has been solid out of the ben, posting four of BU's five saves on the season.
History in the Ma-K-ing
The school record for single-season road wins is 20, established by the 2003 squad, and MSU's streak of six consecutive road wins (Feb. 19-March 4) represented its longest since May 2009.