Missouri State Bears (25-11, 9-3 MVC) at Evansville Purple Aces (15-27, 6-6 MVC)
Dates/Times: Friday, April 26 – 6 p.m.
Saturday, April 27 – 2 p.m.
Sunday, April 28 – 1 p.m.
Location: Evansville, Ind.
Site: Braun Stadium (1,200)
Series History: Missouri State leads 42-35 (Evansville has won two straight)
Radio: KBFL 1060 AM (Art Hains, Terry Clayton)
Live Audio and Video: None
Riding a four-game win streak, the Missouri State Bears will look to solidify their position atop the Missouri Valley Conference standings this weekend when they take on the Evansville Purple Aces in a three-game series at Braun Stadium. MSU will be seeking its third straight MVC series win after sweeping Bradley in Springfield last weekend to move into a first-place tie for the Valley lead with Wichita State.
Missouri State (25-11, 9-3 MVC), which has won six of its last seven MVC contests, also topped Missouri by a 4-2 score Wednesday night in Columbia to earn a split in its season series with the Tigers. Winners of seven of their last 10 games, the Bears have gotten the job done at the plate over the last two weeks, posting double-digit hit totals in nine of their last 11 contests.
Evansville (15-27, 6-6 MVC), which lost both ends of its double-header with Austin Peay on Wednesday, will be attempting to right the ship after suffering defeats in 10 of its last 11 games. Last weekend, the Aces dropped two of their three MVC games with Wichita State, despite stopping a seven-game slide with a 6-3 victory (April 20) over the Shockers.
MSU will wrap up its five-game road swing with a Tuesday (April 30) game versus nationally-ranked Arkansas in Fayetteville.
♦Missouri State leads the all-time series with Evansville by a 42-35 margin, but the Purple Aces have taken seven of the last eight games vs. the Bears to win each of the last three season series
♦C Luke Voit brings a .323 batting average in nine career games against Evansville into the series
♦Voit has reached base safely in 16 straight games and in 30 of his last 31 contests overall
♦In each of the Bears’ last 13 wins, a freshman has recorded either a game-winning RBI or a pitching victory
♦RHP Nick Petree leads the MVC and ranks 18th in the nation with a 1.29 ERA
♦OF Tate Matheny has an 11-game hit streak and three separate hit steaks of at least 10 games this season
♦IF Eric Cheray is 13-for-26 at the plate over his last eight games and leads the Bears with a .452 OBP
♦Freshman RHP Jon Harris is 4-0 in MVC play and ranks sixth in the country with eight victories
♦With OF Keenen Maddox’s first four-hit game as a Bear Saturday vs. Bradley, six different MSU players have recorded four hits in the Bears’ last 15 contests dating back to March 27
The Bears enter the series with a 42-35 all-time advantage over the Purple Aces. Evansville has claimed each of the last three season series with MSU, however, taking seven of the last eight meetings in the series.
In Missouri State’s visit to the River City, UE edged the Bears by scores of 3-1 and 5-4 in a weather-shortened series at Braun Stadium in 2011. The Bears snapped a five-game skid vs. the Aces in the first game of their series at Hammons Field last year before dropping the final two games, 3-1 and 1-0.
About the Bears
Coming off a 40-22 campaign and their eighth NCAA Division I Regional appearance, Missouri State is once again on course to compete for the top spot in the Missouri Valley Conference with wins in 25 of its first 36 games this season. 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 a 6-1 start with the best ERA in the MVC (1.29) through nine starts to pace a staff that has recorded a 3.00 team ERA. Freshman right-hander Jon Harris has made a significant impact as well over his first eight collegiate starts, claiming wins in each while posting a 2.33 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.
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 seven steals lead MSU, while his .293 batting mark ranks fourth and his 21 RBIs are third 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 (.372), runs scored (30), hits (58), home runs (3) and total bases (78). Senior shortstop Travis McComack has been hot at the plate lately, reaching base safely in 23 of his last 24 games while driving in the game-winning RBI in five contests this year. Senior DH Koby Peebles has been one of the Bears’ most consistent contributors, registering 23 RBIs and 11 doubles so far. Senior outfielder Keenen Maddox has been the Bears’ hottest hitter of late, batting .455 over MSU’s last 10 games. Finally, sophomore infielder Eric Cheray ranks among the Valley’s leaders in walks and paces the Bears with a .452 on-base percentage to go along with a .309 batting mark.
About the Purple Aces
Evansville is off to a 15-27 start, despite going 6-6 in MVC play thus far. Head coach Wes Carroll welcomed back 26 letterwinners from last year’s 32-27 squad that finished fifth in the Valley. This year’s club brings a .269 team batting mark into the weekend, but has posted the third-best average (.288) in conference play, while leading the league in fielding percentage (.982) and double plays turned (19) in MVC play. Pacing the UE offense has been sophomore centerfielder Kevin Kaczmarski (.355 BA/4 HR/24 RBI), who ranks second among the top 10 individuals in the league in hitting (.355), slugging (.503), hits (60), runs scored (32) and total bases (85). Senior outfielder Jason Hockemeyer has enjoyed a strong first half as well for the Aces, hitting .297 with 22 RBIs and the No. 6 run total (32) and the second-highest walk total (32) in the Valley. Additionally, senior catcher Chris Pearson has driven in a team-high 27 runs on the year while hitting .320 and making 36 of the clubs’ 42 starts behind the plate.
On the mound, Evansville rides the one-two punch of sophomore left-hander Kyle Freeland and senior right-hander Kyle Lloyd, who rank first and second in the Valley in innings pitched. Lloyd has logged a team-best five wins to date, as well as a 2.53 earned run average to rank seventh in the conference. He leads the Valley and ranks 14th nationally with 75 strikeouts on the year. Freeland, who shut out the Bears on one hit in Springfield last May, brings a 3-6 season mark and a 3.42 ERA into the series. Senior right-hander Jake Naumann (1-1, 1.84 ERA) has been one of the top relievers in the MVC this season with a league-leading seven saves to his credit. As a staff, the Aces have struck out 304 batters this season to rank second in the conference.
Gentlemen, Start Your Engines
After recording an MVC-low 16 stolen bases through their first 35 games, the Bears swiped a season-high four bases in Wednesday’s 4-2 win over Missouri. The Bears’ four steals represented their best single-game output in nearly a year (April 29, 2012 vs. Southern Illinois) and matched their cumulative total over their last 14 games this season.
Bears’ Bats Rebound
The Missouri State offense appears to be peaking at just the right time. Since being held to a total of three hits in back-to-back losses to Illinois State (April 5-6), the Bears have responded with their best offensive stretch of the season, posting at least 10 hits in nine of their last 11 contests.
With 10 hits in their 6-4 loss to No. 27 Oklahoma State on April 16, the Bears ran their streak of double-digit hit totals to six-straight games for the first time since Feb. 24-March 4, 2012. MSU saw the string end with a six-hit effort in a 5-2 win over Bradley (April 19), but the Bears responded with a 15-hit performance in their 12-2 rout of the Braves the following day, then pounded out 10 more in their 6-2 win (April 21) that completed the three-game sweep.
Missouri State has received a boost from its talented freshman class throughout the first half of the season, especially since the start of Missouri Valley Conference play. Bears freshmen have either driven in the game-winning run or posted a mound victory in each of MSU’s last 13 wins dating back to March 16, including each of MSU’s nine Valley wins in 2013. In particular, Tate Matheny has accounted for five game-winning RBIs in conference play, while Jon Harris is a perfect 4-0 on the mound in MVC play.
Missouri State has been dominant in series openers over the last 12 months, registering a Friday (or series-opening) victory in 13 of its last 15 regular-season series or weekend tournaments since a 14-4 win over Illinois State on April 14, 2012. The Bears have out-scored the opposition 79-26 over the same span while posting a minuscule 1.20 ERA as a staff.This year alone the Bears have been especially stingy in weekend openers, posting an 1.08 team ERA and limiting their opponents to a .197 average in eight outings.
Nick Petree has logged 96.1 of the Bears’ 135 innings during the stretch and has allowed just 12 earned runs to record an ERA of 1.12 while racking up nine wins against just two losses. MSU has gone on to claim 14 of the 15 series, posting a 33-11 overall mark in weekend series or tournaments over the same span.
A Fine How-Do-You-Do
Freshman outfielder Tate Matheny has wasted little time in establishing himself as one of the Bears’ top all-around performers over the first half of the season. The St. Louis native has hits in 11 straight games since April 7 to match his previous career-long streak (March 12-31) and mark his third separate hit streak of at least 10 games.
Matheny also posted a 10-game hit streak (Feb. 17-March 9) and his average of 1.611 hits per game is the highest on record for any Missouri State freshman in the 50-year history of the program. Matheny is hitting a club-best .372 for the year with 58 hits to go along with team highs of 30 runs scored, 23 RBIs, three homers, 78 total bases and 20 multi-hit efforts, while starting all 36 games as the Bears’ center fielder.