In a vote of OVC head baseball coaches and sports information directors, defending champion Tennessee Tech has been picked to repeat as champions in 2018. In additional voting, Morehead State junior outfielder Niko Hulsizer was named OVC Preseason Player of the Year while Belmont junior Dylan King was tabbed OVC Preseason Pitcher of the Year.
The voting saw four different teams pick up first-place votes with Tennessee Tech claiming 15 of the 22 top votes. Morehead State received five first-place votes while Jacksonville State and Belmont each picked up one. Tennessee Tech garnered 192 total points, edging Morehead State by 11 points. Jacksonville State was third with 156 points while Belmont was fourth with 148 points. Southeast Missouri was picked fifth (115) and followed by Murray State (104), Austin Peay (103), Eastern Illinois (62), SIUE (57), UT Martin (52) and Eastern Kentucky (42).
In all 14 players were selected to the Preseason All-OVC team. The 14 players represented seven of the 11 teams who will compete for the OVC championship this season. Tennessee Tech led the way with five selections while Eastern Illinois had three and Morehead State had two picks.
A year ago, Tennessee Tech won 23 Conference and 41 total games including capturing its fourth OVC Tournament Championship. The Golden Eagles, who won a game against host and eventual College World Series participant Florida State in the NCAA Regional, had one of the most potent offenses nationally a year ago, ranking second nationally in hits (723), home runs/game (1.60) and slugging (.520), third in runs (504), fourth in doubles (2.32/game) and fifth in scoring (8.1/game). This season 15th year head coach Matt Bragga returns several key players from that lineup including senior infielder Trevor Putzig (.394, 93 hits, 23 doubles, 52 RBI), senior first baseman Chase Chambers (.299, 73 hits, 18 home runs, 61 RBI) and junior outfielder (and 2016 OVC Player of the Year) Kevin Strohschein (.292, 77 hits, 14 home runs, 60 RBI), each of who were named to the Preseason All-OVC Team. The squad also returns senior hurler Travis Moths (5-1, 3.88 ERA, 69 strikeouts in 19 appearances) who will make the transition into the starting rotation this season, and juniorEthan Roberts who had a league-best 13 saves a season ago.
Morehead State enters the year having won 30-plus games in three consecutive years, a first in program history. A year ago, the Eagles were 36-23 overall, including 18 OVC wins and a second-place League finish. That team ranked second nationally in batting average (.332) and runs (525), third in slugging (.519) and fourth in hit by pitch (102). The offense should once again be among national leaders in 2018, with junior All-American and OVC Preseason Player of the Year Niko Hulsizer leading the way. Hulsizer set OVC single-season records with 27 home runs and 193 total bases a year ago and also won the College Home Run Derby by smashing 49 home runs over three rounds (the second-most in event history). Hulsizer has been named to numerous Preseason All-American teams for this season, including by Collegiate Baseball where he was joined by teammates Braxton Morris (.364, 82 hits, 47 RBI) and Reid Leonard (.328, 83 hits, 48 RBI). Mike McGuire’s team also welcomes back senior third baseman Eli Boggess, who ranked second nationally with a .425 batting average a year ago.
Jacksonville State begins year No. 16 under head coach Jim Case and returns 18 letterwinners from last year’s team that won 30 games. Included in those returners is junior starting pitcher Derrick Adams, a Preseason All-OVC selection after going 7-3 in 15 starts in 2017. Also back is senior Colton Pate who struck out 75 batters in 73 innings a year ago. Offensively, senior infielder Clayton Daniel will look to close out his career in strong fashion. He earned All-American honors after the 2016 season when he hit .372 and followed that be being an All-OVC pick a year ago after batting .328 with team highs in hits (81) and runs (46). Clayton is coming off a summer of playing for the Falmouth Commodores in the Cape Cod League. Senior Trent Simpson hit a team-high 12 home runs last season and also appeared in 18 games in relief, netting two wins and two saves.
Belmont should be one of the top pitching teams in the OVC this year, as they return three starters, including OVC Preseason Pitcher of the Year Dylan King. King struck out 108 batters in 84 innings a year ago and will be paired with senior Tyler Vaughn, who had 96 strikeouts in 100 innings in 2017, and senior Connor Etheridge, who was 4-1 in 10 starts a season ago. Out of the bullpen the Bruins have junior Kyle Klotz who set a new OVC record with 46 appearances last year, a mark that led all Division I players. Offensively, head coach Dave Jarvis, who enters his 21st season with the program, returns several key positional players, including sophomore outfielder Matt Cogen who hit .332 with 78 hits and 32 RBI a year ago.
Southeast Missouri won 29 games under first-year head coach Andy Sawyers a year ago. This season Sawyers welcomes 22 newcomers to the program to mix with a solid core of returning players. Among those returners is senior first baseman Tristen Gagan who was named a Preseason All-American by Collegiate Baseball. A year ago, he smashed 13 home runs and drove in 62 runs in 55 games. Also returning is sophomoreDanny Wright, who was named a Freshman All-American after a campaign that saw him hit .376 with 67 hits, 43 runs, 13 doubles and 36 RBI. The team will also be bolstered by the return of redshirt junior infielderTrevor Ezell who played in just seven games last year before being injured. In his last full season (2016), Ezell hit .326 with 79 hits, 70 runs and 23 stolen bases. The Redhawks return one starting pitcher in senior leftyNate Green (3-3 in 11 starts), but have nine other returning pitchers, including senior Carlos Vega who had a team-high six saves in 2017.
Murray State has made consistent strides under now fourth-year head coach Kevin Moulder. After making a +11 improvement from 2016 to 2017, the Racers bumped its win total to 29 overall games a year ago, the most for the program since 2009. MSU won 15 Conference games for the second-straight season (marking the most OVC wins in program history), while qualifying for the OVC Tournament field for the first time since 2010. Among the team’s returning players is third baseman Davis Sims, last year’s OVC Freshman of the Year. Sims hit .308 with 69 hits, 17 doubles, 11 home runs and 50 RBI in 58 games a year ago, and junior Jaron Robinson who tallied 68 hits, 41 runs, 12 doubles and 28 RBI in 2017. The Racers also return senior Ramsey Scott, who missed last season with an injury, who had a team-best 13 home runs and 63 RBI while also finishing with 69 hits and a .612 slugging percentage in 2016.
Austin Peay returns 17 letterwinners from last season’s team that won 28 games, including its entire weekend pitching rotation and four positional starters. Sophomore Parker Phillips, an OVC All-Freshman selection last season, returns to lead the APSU offense after hitting a school freshman-record 12 home runs last season. On the mound, junior Josh Rye (6-4, 4.34 ERA in 17 appearances), senior Michael Costanzo (2-3, 44 strikeouts in 48.2 innings) and senior Jacques Pucheu (2-2, 4.93 ERA in 18 appearances) return after finishing last season as the Govs weekend rotation. Rye ranked fourth in the OVC in E.R.A. in 2017. This season marks the second for the program under head coach Travis Janssen.
Eastern Illinois has improved its win total each season under now third-year coach Jason Anderson. A year ago, the Panthers won 21 total games and this season return 17 positional players and 10 pitchers from that team. Included in that are a trio of Preseason All-OVC selections in senior outfielder Joseph Duncan (.331, 84 hits, 47 RBI, 18 stolen bases), senior designated hitter Dougie Parks (.300, 18 home runs, 57 RBI) and junior second baseman Jimmy Govern (.335, 62 hits, 11 home runs, 50 RBI).
SIUE won 23 games a year ago under first-year head coach Sean Lyons. This season Lyons has 22 returning players (12 positional, 11 pitchers) including Preseason All-OVC selection Brock Weimer. Weimer, a junior catcher, hit .329 with 49 hits, 15 home runs, 50 RBI and a .685 slugging percentage in 46 games. Also back is senior outfielder Dustin Woodcock who was second on the SIUE team with a .330 batting average a year ago. On the mound senior Nelson Martz returns to lead a staff after he won seven of his 13 starts a year ago.
Last year, UT Martin finished the season with 25 overall victories, the most for the program in its Division I era. The Skyhawks qualified for the OVC Baseball Championship for just the third time ever and first time since 2011. This year the program is being led by interim head coach Ryan Jenkins who has 20 returning players and 13 newcomers on his roster. Among the returning players is senior second baseman Tyler Albright wholed the squad in on-base percentage (.422) last season while boosting a .343 batting average. Senior outfielder Creighton Eldridge paced the team in triples (6) and walks (29) while also boasting a .548 slugging percentage last year. On the mound, senior Dalton Westfall led the way in opponent batting average (.261), innings pitched (80.2 innings) and strikeouts (81) in 2017.
Eastern Kentucky returns 18 letterwinners and six positional starters in addition to welcoming 16 newcomers to the fold for 2018. Included in that is junior utility player Alex Holderbach, who was a Preseason All-OVC selection. A year ago, he hit .355 with 12 doubles, 11 home runs and 49 RBI while playing multiple outfield and infield positions, as well as starting six times as a catcher and 10 times in the designated hitter spot. Third-year head coach Edwin Thompson also returns senior outfielder Daniel McFarland who shared the team lead in batting average (.363) in 2017.
The 70th season of OVC baseball will get underway on Friday, Feb. 16 with the first weekend of league play being held March 9-11. The season will culminate with the 2018 OVC Championship which will be held for the second year in a row at Choccolocco Park in Oxford, Alabama. The tournament runs May 22-27.
2018 OVC Baseball Predicted Order of Finish
1. Tennessee Tech (15 first-place votes) – 192 points
2. Morehead State (5) - 181
3. Jacksonville State (1) - 156
4. Belmont (1) - 148
5. Southeast Missouri - 115
6. Murray State - 104
7. Austin Peay - 103
8. Eastern Illinois - 62
9. SIUE - 57
10. UT Martin - 52
11. Eastern Kentucky - 42
2018 OVC Preseason All-OVC Baseball Team
Preseason OVC Player of the Year: Niko Hulsizer (OF), Morehead State
Preseason OVC Pitcher of the Year: Dylan King (RHP), Belmont
C - Brock Weimer, SIUE
1B - Chase Chambers, Tennessee Tech
2B - Jimmy Govern, Eastern Illinois
SS - David Garza, Tennessee Tech
3B - Eli Boggess, Morehead State
OF - Niko Hulsizer, Morehead State
OF - Kevin Strohschein, Tennessee Tech
OF - Joseph Duncan, Eastern Illinois
DH - Dougie Parks, Eastern Illinois
UT - Alex Holderbach, Eastern Kentucky
SP - Dylan King, Belmont
SP - Derrick Adams, Jacksonville State
SP - Travis Moths, Tennessee Tech
RP - Ethan Roberts, Tennessee Tech
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