Bears Close Homestand Against Saint Louis Tuesday
April 16, 2012
Missouri State Bears (27-10) vs. Saint Louis Billikens (24-11)
Saint Louis enters Tuesday's game having won three of its last four games. The Billikens took two of three games from Xavier over the weekend.
Saint Louis Series
Last year, the Bears won two of the three games played by the two clubs, including a 13-11 win at Hammons Field, in which Brent Seifert went 5-for-5 to lead MSU's 17-hit attack. All three meetings last year were decided by two runs or less, with the two teams combining to pound out 79 hits.
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 11-game hit streak and a team-high .345 batting mark into the series after hitting .438 with a pair of homers and eight runs batted in over his last eight games. Senior outfielder Spiker Helms (.315, 5-HR, 32-RBI) ranks among the MVC's top 10 performers in a number of different offensive categories, including a league-leading 17 doubles. Fellow senior Brock Chaffin (.311, 31-RBI) has 13 multi-hit games and at least one RBI in 21 contests, while junior catcher Luke Voit (.313, 4-HR, 29-RBI) has a team-high five game-winning RBIs and is hitting .373 at home this season. Senior second baseman Kevin Medrano (.307, 13-2B, 8-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 (.309, 5-HR, 32-RBI) shares the club lead in homers and RBIs and has reached base safely in 35 of the Bears' 37 games. Finally, sophomore outfielder Trey Massenberg (.299, 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 14 times over MSU's last 14 contests.
The Bears' top three starting pitchers have been strong through the first nine weeks of the season, combining to strike out 184 batters through 172.2 innings of work, despite a pair of key injuries. Nick Petree (7-2, 0.84), who went 9-2 with a 2.81 ERA to garner Freshman All-America honors last spring, has won seven of his last eight decisions 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 10th-highest strikeout total into the week. However, forearm tightness plagued Johnson in his last start at Dallas Baptist and forced him to skip his last two Friday starts. Junior righty Clay Murphy (5-1, 1.37, 1 save) ranked among the MVC's leaders in a number of categories before an elbow injury ended his season prematurely in early April. Finally, the Bears' bullpen has been nearly as dominant as the rotation, 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, 1.25, 8 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. Last week, Burgess posted his seventh and eighth saves of the season to climb to the top of the Missouri State freshman saves list.
About the Billikens
The Billikens have gotten the job done on the mound as well and enter the week with a 3.27 team ERA. Alex Alemann (5-0, 2.29) has been the go-to arm for SLU, while Clay Smith (4-2, 2.24) has been just as effective as a weekend starter. Travis Parker (2-1, 0.00, 4 saves) has yet to allow an earned run in 23.1 innings over 15 appearances to lead the relief corps.
Riding the crest of their longest win streak since 2009, the Bears secured their first regular-season top 30 rankings in nearly three years March 26, when they were tabbed 29th in both the Collegiate Baseball Top 30 and Perfect Game Top 50 polls. MSU also received votes in the National Collegiate Baseball Writers of America (NCBWA) Top 30 for the first time in 2012 and earned 30 votes in the USA Today/ESPN Top 25 Coaches' Poll, good for 30th among all Division I programs.
For the Bears, who were ranked 31st in Collegiate Baseball's preseason poll, the latest citations marked their first regular-season top 30 rankings since holding the No. 30 spot in the same poll the week of May 18, 2009.
On a Roll
Helms, who recorded just six two-base hits all of last year, is currently just three doubles away from cracking the Missouri State single-season top 10 list, and just nine shy of the school record, held by Steve Meyer with 26 (1986).
The Washington, Mo., product's total for the year ranked seventh among all Division I players through Sunday's games. Additionally, Helms rated among the nation's leaders in walks (42nd) and runs scored (69th) coming into the week.