Bears Open MVC Championship Play Tuesday Against Bradley
May 21, 2012
No. 2 Missouri State Bears (37-18, 13-7 MVC)
The Missouri State Bears (37-18, 13-7 MVC) take the No. 2 seed into the State Farm Missouri Valley Conference Championship this week at Hammons Field, beginning their quest for a third MVC tourney title against the seventh-seeded Bradley Braves (26-25-1, 8-13 MVC) at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday.
This year's tournament format is in its third season of splitting the league's eight schools into a pair of four-team, double-elimination brackets with a one game championship set for 7 p.m. Saturday. Joining the Bears and Braves in their half of the bracket is No. 3 Wichita State and No. 6 Southern Illinois.
The Bears, who have won the tournament title on two previous occasions (1996 and 1997), are 34-37 in 20 previous trips to the MVC Tournament. MSU has five runner-up finishes (1995, 2002, 2006 and 2008) and has gone 2-4 all-time as the tournament's host.
About the Bears
Leading the way for the Bears has been second baseman Kevin Medrano (.332, 22 RBI, 17 2B, 11 SB) who leads the club in hitting and ranks fifth in the MVC in total hits. The senior from Lee's Summit, Mo., has been hot at the plate lately after a sluggish start to move into second place on MSU's career hits list (300) and earn his fourth straight first-team All-MVC nod. Junior Keenen Maddox saw his career-best 11-game hit streak come to an end April 17, but still brings a .296 batting mark into Tuesday's game. Serving as the Bears' primary DH, Maddox clubbed a pair of critical homers to help the Bears take two of three games from regular-season champ Indiana State last weekend. Senior second-team All-MVC OF Spiker Helms (.281, 6 HR, 39 RBI) ranks among the MVC's top 10 performers in a number of different offensive categories, including a team-leading 21 doubles and a league-high 40 walks. Two more second-team All-MVC performers, Brock Chaffin (.295, HR, 37 RBI) has 17 multi-hit games and at least one RBI in 24 contests, while junior catcher Luke Voit (.299, 5 HR, 40 RBI) has five game-winning RBIs this season and 16 for his MSU career to rank ninth in school history. Senior third baseman Brent Seifert (.271, 5 HR, 42 RBI) leads the team in RBIs and has reached base safely in 48 of the Bears' 55 games.
The Bears' pitching staff has been the strength of the team through the regular season, despite a series of key injuries. National pitcher of the year candidate Nick Petree (10-3, 0.91) was named MVC Pitcher of the Year after turning in a string of 73 consecutive innings without allowing an earned run, as well as a school-record 38.1 straight scoreless frames into the final week of the regular season. Junior right-hander Pierce Johnson (3-6, 2.58) has been dominant over his first 12 starts of the season in spite of a lack of run support that has resulted in four one-run setbacks. After missing two starts in April due to a forearm strain, Johnson brings the nation's 18th-best strikeouts/nine innings mark into the weekend. Junior righty Cody Schumacher (7-1, 3.95) has been a dependable third starter in his first year as a Bear, helping his club claim wins in 13 of his 15 starts to date to pick up honorable mention all-conference honors. 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). MVC Freshman of the Year Tyler Burgess (5-0, 1.24, 11 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 has been freshman infielder Chris Godinez, who hit .327 during the regular season in route to garnering second-team all-conference honors. Last year's leading hitter for the Braves, Mike Tauchman also posted a strong season, hitting .297, while the Braves received a lift from freshman outfielder Max Murphy (.293, 9 HR, 37 RBI) and sophomore DH Greg Partyka (.283, 10 HR, 43 RBI), who teamed up to give BU a power boost with 19 homers and 80 RBIs between them.
On the hill, the Braves are led by senior lefty Joe Bircher (7-3, 2.62), a first-team All-MVC performer who led the league in strikeouts during the regular season.
Leaders of the Pack
Petree in Howser Hunt
Petree, who has not yielded a home run all season, leads the MVC in victories (10) and ERA, and ranks fourth in innings pitched (99.1) and second in strikeouts (102). Additionally, Petree's win total ranked fourth in all of Division I through games of May 20. The sophomore's 19 combined wins over his first two seasons as a Bear represents Missouri State record for victories over a two-year span, matching the total of Brad Ziegler, who won seven games in 2002, before earning a school-record 12 victories in 2003.
Nine Bears Honored by Valley
A three-time MVC Pitcher of the Week honoree in 2012 and an NCBWA Dick Howser Trophy semifinalist, Petree becomes the third Bear pitcher to earn top honors from the MVC in the last five seasons and the fifth MSU hurler overall to earn MVC Pitcher of the Year laurels. The Clinton, Mo., product turned in the nation's longest scoreless innings streak this season, working a Missouri State-record 38.1 consecutive shutout frames from April 6-May 17, as well as 73.0 straight innings without giving up an earned run (March 2-May 17).
Medrano becomes the first Valley player on record to earn first-team All-MVC honors in each of his four collegiate seasons. The senior from Lee's Summit, Mo., leads the club with a .332 batting mark, while fielding a sparkling .991 as the Bears' regular second baseman. Last weekend at Indiana State, Medrano went 7-for-14 to lead the Bears to two victories over the MVC's regular-season champs, recording his 300th career hit in Saturday's series-clinching victory.
In addition to the Bears' three first-teamers, seniors Brock Chaffin, Brent Seifert and Spiker Helms, along with junior Luke Voit were chosen for the league's second team, while juniors Keenen Maddox and Cody Schumacher were named honorable mention All-MVC. Finally, both Petree and Medrano were among the honorees for the Valley's All-Defensive squad.
Back in the Flow
Johnson has been plagued throughout the season by a startling lack of run support, as Saturday's five-run outburst by the Bears marked just the second time in 12 starts this season his mates have scored more than three runs. MSU has totaled just 38 runs in games Johnson has started, or an average of 3.2 runs per game. With the Bears averaging 5.4 runs per outing this season, a quick analysis of Johnson's game-by-game record reveals that he would be 10-1 on the season if MSU had merely equaled its average run total in each of his 12 starts.