Bears Look to Solidify Position in MVC Race Against Illinois State
April 12, 2012
Missouri State Bears (25-10, 4-2 MVC) vs. Illinois State Redbirds (20-10, 2-4 MVC)
Missouri State, which has not dropped a home game since a March 13 loss to No. 28 Purdue, shut out Kansas State on Wednesday to continue its string of dominance over the Big 12 Conference in 2012. The Bears have won five-straight games against the league and are now 11-3 against Big 12 foes over the last two seasons.
Illinois State is coming off a 22-3 massacre of Northern Illinois on Tuesday after dropping two of three Valley games to Wichita State last weekend. The Redbirds bring one of the nation's top scoring offenses into the series, as well as a running game that generates an average of nearly two stolen bases per game to rank 14th in all of NCAA Division I baseball.
Illinois State Series
Last year, Missouri State took two of three games from the Redbirds in Normal after swiping 11 bases in the series. Luke Voit went 6-for-13 (.462) on the weekend, clubbed a pair of home runs and drove in five runs to lead the Bears' charge, while Nick Petree and Pierce Johnson turned in strong mound efforts to earn victories. Illinois State swept the Bears in their last trip to Hammons Field in 2010, snapping a 13-game road losing streak in the series.
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 career-best nine-game hit streak and a team-high .347 batting mark into the series after hitting .526 with a pair of homers and six runs batted in last week. Senior outfielder Spiker Helms (.304, 4-HR, 27-RBI) ranks among the MVC's top 10 performers in a number of different offensive categories, including a league-leading 16 doubles. Fellow senior Brock Chaffin (.296, 28-RBI) has 11 multi-hit games and at least one RBI in 19 contests, while junior catcher Luke Voit (.298, 4-HR, 28-RBI) has a team-high five game-winning RBIs and is hitting a club-best .340 at home this season. Senior second baseman Kevin Medrano (.302, 12-2B, 7-SB) has been hot at the plate lately after a sluggish start to move into the school's top five for career hits. Senior third baseman Brent Seifert (.289, 5-HR, 29-RBI) leads the club in homers and RBIs and has reached base safely in 33 of the Bears' 35 games. Finally, sophomore outfielder Trey Massenberg (.282, 2-HR, 13-RBI, 5-3B) has blossomed in his second season as a Bear. He has an MVC-leading five triples and has scored 11 times over MSU's last 12 contests.
The Bears' top three starting pitchers have been strong through the first eight weeks of the season, combining to strike out 179 batters through 167.1 innings of work. Nick Petree (6-2, 0.92), who went 9-2 with a 2.81 ERA to garner Freshman All-America honors last spring, won six-straight decisions before dropping a 2-1 game last Friday at Bradley 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 third-highest strikeout total into the week. However, forearm tightness plagued Johnson in his last start at Dallas Baptist and forced him to skip his normal Friday start last week. Junior righty Clay Murphy (5-1, 1.37, 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 (59.0) and ERA and fourth in strikeouts (55), but will miss his regular Sunday start this weekend with an apparent elbow injury. 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, 1.47, 7 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. On Wednesday, Burgess wrapped up the Bears' 3-0 win over K-State with three strikeouts over 1 1/3 innings to match the Missouri State freshman record for saves.
About the Redbirds
On the hill, ISU relies on a solid bullpen, led by two-time All-MVC honoree Kenny Long. The senior left-hander has posted seven of the Redbirds eight saves on the year after posting a 0.92 ERA as a junior in 2011. The weekend rotation is anchored by junior right-hander Chris Razo (4-2, 4.53) and freshman lefty Dylan Craig (4-1, 5.59).
The Bears, who are 12-2 at home this season, are within striking distance of their best home mark at Hammons Field. MSU went 21-5 at home in 2008 to set the gold standard at Hammons, now in its ninth season as home of the Bears.
History in the Ma-K-ing
Junior Pierce Johnson leads the Valley and ranked third in all of Division I baseball with 71 strikeouts coming into the week, despite missing his last start due to tightness in his right forearm. Junior Clay Murphy's 55 K's rate fourth in the MVC, while sophomore Nick Petree is tied for sixth with 53 punchouts on the year. Additionally, junior Cody Schumacher ranks just outside the league's top 10 with 40 strikeouts.
Petree Near Perfect
The Clinton, Mo., product has been the model of consistency, recording quality starts in seven of his eight appearances this season and in 17 of 19 overall in his career as a Bear. Additionally, Petree has worked at least six innings in each of his 19 starts as a collegiate.
If Petree's season ended today, his 0.92 ERA would be the lowest for any Valley pitcher reaching the qualifying minimums in a single season since former SIU Saluki and current Missouri State pitching coach Paul Evans posted an 0.84 mark in 1979. Petree leads the MVC in victories (6) and ERA, and ranks second in innings pitched (59.0) and sixth in strikeouts (53). Additionally, Petree's win total and ERA both ranked seventh in all of Division I through games of April 8.