Bears Open Final MVC Series Against Creighton Thursday in Omaha
Spencer Johnson
Spencer Johnson

May 15, 2013

Missouri State Game Notes Get Acrobat Reader

Missouri State Bears (29-19, 11-7 MVC) at Creighton Bluejays (28-15, 11-7 MVC)
Thursday, May 16 - 12:30 p.m.
Friday, May 17 - 7 p.m.
Saturday, May 18 - 1 p.m.
Location: Omaha, Neb.
Site: TD Ameritrade Park Omaha (24,000)
Series History: Missouri State leads 41-40 (MSU has won the last three meetings)
Radio: KBFL 1060 AM (Art Hains, Terry Clayton)
TV: None
Live Audio and Video:
Live Stats:
Twitter: @MSUBearBaseball

Leading Off
With a number of potential seeding scenarios still in play for next week's Missouri Valley Conference Championship, the Missouri State Bears head into their final MVC series of the season against the Creighton Bluejays with the objective of bolstering their position among the league's top four clubs. The two teams will meet for the final time as Valley foes at TD Ameritrade Park, beginning with Thursday's (May 16) 12:30 p.m. contest. The series will conclude with single games Friday (7 p.m.) and Saturday (1 p.m.)

The Bears and Bluejays enter the series tied for third place in the MVC standings with matching 11-7 conference records, each holding out hope for a finish as high as second in the regular-season race. Both trail Illinois State (13-5) and Wichita State (15-6), with the winner of this weekend's series assured of at least a third-place finish.

The Bears (29-19 overall) are coming off a series win over Wright State last weekend in which they rode standout pitching performances to take the first two games before watching a late lead slip away in the finale. The Bluejays (28-15) came up with a key series victory at Wichita State to bump the Shockers from the top spot in the MVC standings last weekend.

After the conclusion of this weekend's series, the Bears head to Normal, Ill., for the MVC Championship, which kicks off Tuesday (May 21) and runs through Saturday's (May 25) title game at Duffy Bass Field on the Illinois State campus.

Prime 9
♦MSU has won 15 of its last 18 regular-season weekend series openers, including five of its last six away from home
♦The Bears hold a 41-40 series lead over Creighton, but have gone 15-22 against CU in Omaha
♦Each of the Bears' last 11 losses -- and 16 of their last 17 -- have been by three runs or less; MSU is 16-2 in games decided by four or more runs this season
♦IF Eric Cheray has reached base safely in 20 consecutive games, the longest such streak for a Bear this season
♦C Luke Voit needs 10 hits to catch Ryan Howard (227) in the No. 15 spot on the Bears' career hits list
♦RHP Nick Petree is the first MSU pitcher in the program's 50-year history to post back-to-back 100-strikeout seasons
♦Petree ranks seventh nationally in strikeouts and needs just five more punchouts to top the 300-mark for his career
♦OF Keenen Maddox needs three hits to become the third active Bear to reach the 200-career-hit plateau this season
♦Freshman LHP Andy Cheray has held the opposition to a .190 average while posting a 2.78 ERA since joining the Bears' weekend rotation April 14; fellow rookie LHP Matt Hall has posted a .186 BAA over the same span

Series History
The Bears hold a slim 41-40 edge in their series with Creighton after last year's three-game sweep at Hammons Field. MSU received standout starting pitching performances in each of its three victories, with Pierce Johnson's 16-strikeout effort in a complete-game, five-hit shutout highlighting the weekend.

Creighton does hold a 22-15 advantage vs. the Bears in Omaha, including a 5-1 mark in the series at TD Ameritrade Park. The Bluejays swept MSU in the two clubs' previous MVC series at the venue in 2011, then took two of three meetings from the Bears in that year's MVC Championship, ultimately won by CU in its first season at the new facility.

About the Bears
Coming off a 40-22 campaign and their eighth NCAA Division I Regional appearance, Missouri State enters the final week of the regular season in position to once again compete for a postseason berth. For the second-straight year head coach Keith Guttin's Bears were tabbed as the MVC's preseason favorite by the league's coaches, thanks largely to the return of 17 letterwinners, including the bulk of a pitching staff that led the nation in team earned run average last spring.

Leading the way once again is junior hurler Nick Petree, who was named Louisville Slugger National Player of the Year by Collegiate Baseball last year after going 10-4 with a Division I-best 1.01 ERA and 114 strikeouts in 115.1 innings pitched. The right-hander is off to an 8-1 start with the second-best ERA in the MVC (1.55) through 12 starts to pace a staff that has recorded a league-best 3.12 team ERA. Freshman right-hander Jon Harris has made a significant impact in his first collegiate season, also bringing an 8-1 mark to go along with a 3.72 ERA into the series after posting wins in each of his first eight collegiate starts. Two additional freshmen -- left-handers Andy Cheray and Matt Hall -- round out the Bears' regular rotation. Cheray has been solid since joining the weekend rotation, posting a 3.20 ERA, while Hall is third on the squad with five wins and a 2.74 ERA. Sophomore NCBWA National Stopper of the Year candidate Tyler Burgess has been strong out of the bullpen for MSU, logging three wins and three saves thus far after earning Freshman All-America recognition in 2012. Additionally, senior relievers Grant Gordon and Erik Shannahan have combined for three wins and five saves over 44 appearances to stabilize MSU's bullpen.

In the field, the Bears return five regulars from last year's club, including senior catcher Luke Voit, a Johnny Bench Award candidate for the second consecutive season. Voit's eight steals lead MSU, while his 26 RBIs rank second on the squad. Freshman outfielder Tate Matheny has been nothing short of outstanding in his first season of collegiate action, ranking among the Valley's top 10 in hitting (.343), runs scored (37), hits (71), home runs (4) and total bases (98). Senior outfielder Keenen Maddox has been one of the Bears' hottest hitters of late, bringing a .378 MVC batting mark into the weekend. Finally, sophomore infielder Eric Cheray ranks among the Valley's leaders in walks and paces the Bears with a .469 on-base percentage -- good for second in the MVC -- to go along with a .316 batting mark.

About the Bluejays
Creighton has been one of the surprise teams in the Valley this season after being tabbed seventh in the league's preseason coaches' poll. The Bluejays return 18 players from last year's club that caught fire late to claim its second straight MVC Tournament title following an eighth-place regular-season finish. Head coach Ed Servais's 2013 squad employs a balanced attack that features one of the nation's top defenses. On the offensive side, CU's lineup utilizes five regulars who wil bring batting averages of .314 or better into this weekend's series. Sophomore second baseman Jake Peter (.346 BA/31 RBI/8 SB) paces the attack with team highs for hits, total bases and steals, while junior third baseman Federico Castagnini leads the Valley in sacrifices (17) to go along with a .336 batting mark. Junior outfielder Brad McKewon (.314 BA) has the `Jays' top run total, as well as a .413 on-base percentage. Mike Gerber (.328 BA/4 HR/28 RBI) represents CU's top power threat, but the junior outfielder has been sidelined since late April and his status remains in question for this weekend's series.

On the mound, Creighton has received a lift from freshman right-hander Tommy Strunc, who is 7-2 with a 4.15 ERA. The Bluejays also rely heavily on a deep bullpen, led by two-way threat Jake Peter, who has saved six games to go along with two wins and a 2.63 ERA. Additionally right-hander Mark Lukowski and lefty Mark Winkelman have scooped up a combined nine wins out of the CU pen. As a group, the `Jays' staff has posted a 3.90 team ERA, while holding the opposition to a .252 batting average.

Close Encounters
While the Bears have lost nine of their last 11 contests, each of the eight setbacks have followed a familiar pattern with a final margin of three runs or less. In fact, each of MSU's last 11 defeats have been by three runs or less, and the Bears have been outscored by just 17 combined runs in their seven Valley losses this season. Furthermore, the Bears have been beaten by an average of just 2.5 runs in their 19 losses this season, including 17 that have been decided by three runs or less.

Sunday No-Fun Day
Missouri State dropped its third straight Sunday contest last weekend, surrendering a 4-1 lead when Wright State scored four times in the eighth inning in a span of just eight pitches. MSU, which started the season by winning seven of its first nine Sunday outings, has coughed up late leads in two of their three Sunday losses over the last two weekends, with the Bears' typically-stout pitching staff posting a 6.00 earned run average in the three setbacks. The Bears have struggled at the plate as well, batting .260 as a team and just .225 (9-for-40) with runners in scoring position over the same stretch.

House of Horrors
Since starting the season with nine wins in their first 10 games at Hammons Field, the Bears have found their home turf to be anything but hospitable. MSU snapped a five-game home losing streak with last Friday's 6-1 win over Wright State and took two of three games from the Raiders, but the Bears dropped their home finale Sunday to finish their longest homestand of the season with a 2-6 mark.

With a 14-9 home record in 2013, MSU matched its previous low for home victories in a full season at Hammons, established with the 2010 club's 14-11 home mark. Additionally, with a 15-10 record in road/neutral games, the Bears will finish with more wins away from home for the second consecutive season.

Petree Power
One Bear who will miss his home field is junior hurler Nick Petree, who stopped MSU's six-game skid with his second complete-game effort of the season Friday in a 6-1 win over Wright State. With his eighth win of the season, Petree kept his perfect Hammons Field record intact, improving to 12-0 in 18 career appearances at home.

The Clinton, Mo., product also became the first Bear to log back-to-back 100-strikeout seasons with his 10-K afternoon vs. the Raiders -- his fourth-straight double-digit strikeout performance. For his effort, Petree was named Missouri Valley Conference Pitcher of the Week for the second time in 2013 and for the fifth time in his illustrious MSU career.



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