College Preview

2006 Ohio Valley Conference Preview




HOW THEY'LL FINISH



Conference Overall


W
L
W
L
1. +Austin Peay State
16
11
38
24
2. Jacksonville State
19
8
35
25
3. Eastern Kentucky
14
12
26
31
4. Morehead State
15
11
29
28
5. Murray State
15
12
28
31
6. Southeast Missouri State
15
12
24
32
7. Samford
13
14
20
36
8. Eastern Illinois
14
13
17
39
9. Tennessee Tech
6
20
13
42
10. Tennessee-Martin
6
20
12
43
(2005 records listed; 2006 national ranking in parentheses)
+ 2005 conference tournament champion; NCAA regional participants in boldface

Projected NCAA Teams (1): Austin Peay State.
Conference Schedule: 27 games. Schedule begins March 25.
Conference Tournament: Six teams, May 23-27 at Paducah, Ky.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

ALL-CONFERENCE TEAM
* 2005 conference leader

C--Donald Cheney, Jr., Morehead State (.322-12-57). 1B—Charlie Yarbrough, Jr., Eastern Kentucky (.301-13-40 at Longwood, Va.). 2B--Seth Hudson, Jr., Murray State (.336-0-23). 3B--Jacob Schroeder, Sr, Austin Peay State (.306-7-30). SS--Jake Ball, Jr., Jacksonville State (.361-2-43). OF--Brett Bolger, Jr., Eastern Kentucky (*.398-1-42, 20 SB); Brian Piazza, So., Jacksonville State (.313-3-42); Cody Youngblood, Sr., Austin Peay State (.293-1-26, 29 SB). DH--Jason Cobb, Jr., Eastern Illinois (.307-12-42). P--Lee Drinkard, Sr., Jacksonville State (8-2, 1.77, 5 SV); Donovan Hand, So., Jacksonville State (10-3, *2.60); Rowdy Hardy, Sr., Austin Peay State (*11-6, 2.63, 127 IP/*96 SO).

Player of the Year: Rowdy Hardy, lhp, Austin Peay State.

Top Newcomer: Charlie Yarbrough, 1b, Eastern Kentucky.

PROJECTED TOP PROSPECTS, 2006-07 DRAFTS

1. Charlie Yarbrough, 1b, Eastern Kentucky.
2. #Donovan Hand, rhp, Jacksonville State.
3. Stephen Artz, rhp, Samford.

# Not eligible for 2006 draft

SHORT HOPS

• Austin Peay State won Ohio Valley Conference regular season titles in 2003 and 2004, but failed on both occasions to advance to NCAA play by losing in the conference tournament. So the Governors finished second in the league last season and knocked off regular-season champ Jacksonville State to make its second NCAA tournament trip. Those two teams should again wage a tight battle for the league crown. APSU returns LHP Rowdy Hardy (11-6, 2.63), the 2005 OVC pitcher of the year. He and the Governors led Tennessee 5-4 after seven innings in the first game of the Knoxville Regional last year before the Volunteers scored three times off Hardy in the bottom of the eighth. Those runs bumped Hardy's ERA from 2.34 to 2.63, costing him his second consecutive league ERA title. He has led the conference in wins and innings for the last two seasons. Junior RHP Shawn Kelley (7-4, 3.59) follows Hardy in a strong Austin Peay rotation.

• Jacksonville State offers just as formidable a pitching tandem in sophomore RHP Donovan Hand (10-3, 2.60) and senior RHP Lee Drinkard (8-2, 1.77). The 6-foot-4 Hand led the league with a 2.60 ERA as a freshman. Drinkard would have contended for the title, but worked in just 46 innings. He saved five games for the Gamecocks as a closer.

• Pitching pairs seem to be the rule in the MVC, as Samford also has a couple of power-armed righthanders. Senior Stephen Artz (5-7, 4.98) led the MVC with 98 strikeouts in 2004, but that number fell to 45 last season. Despite a 90-94 mph fastball he has shown at his best, Artz failed to consistently locate his breaking ball or throw that hard and couldn't put hitters away. He was more consistent in the fall. Junior Joseph Edens made it through about 50 innings before having shoulder surgery after an 8-5, 3.49 freshman year. He's supposed to return in March.

• Six-foot-6 junior 1B Charlie Yarbrough could make a run at the OVC home run title after transferring to Eastern Kentucky from Longwood (Va.), which is in the process of transitioning to Division I. He batted .301-13-40 as a sophomore and hit 10 more home runs over the summer to lead the Great Lakes League.

• Morehead State went from preseason cellar dweller to a half-game behind Austin Peay in 2005 on the strength of a powerful offensive attack that ranked among the nation's top 25 teams in doubles and home runs per game as well as slugging percentage. Junior C Donald Cheney (.322-12-57) and junior 1B Paul Rhodes (.281-14-40) return, but Bryan Ingram (.347-16-64) and Lance Seasor (.366-15-50), the top two home run hitters in the OVC, have departed. Seasor was the league’s player of the year.