2012 Ohio Valley Conference Preview

See also: Preseason Top 25 Capsules

*2011 automatic qualifier. 2011 NCAA regional participants in bold (2011 records listed; 2012 national rankings in parentheses)

Conference Overall
*Austin Peay State 17 6 34 24
Jacksonville State 14 9 36 23
Eastern Kentucky 11 13 21 36
Tennessee Tech 12 12 25 29
Southeast Missouri State 14 8 34 22
Southern Ill.-Edwardsville 28 24
Tennessee-Martin 10 13 20 36
Murray State 9 13 19 32
Eastern Illinois 9 12 18 33
Morehead State 6 16 10 39
Projected NCAA Teams (1): Austin Peay State.
Conference Schedule: 27 games; begins March 23.
Conference Tournament: Six teams, May 23-27 at Jackson, Tenn.
Player of the Year: Jordan Hankins, 2b, Austin Peay State.
Pitcher of the Year: Aaron Elias, rhp, Jacksonville State.

1. Anthony Bazzani, rhp, Eastern Kentucky
2. Shae Simmons, rhp, Southeast Missouri State
3. Coty Blanchard, of, Jacksonville State (2013)
4. Ben Waldrip, 1b, Jacksonville State
5. Matt Shepherd, rhp, Tennessee Tech
6. Trenton Moses, 3b, Southeast Missouri State
7. Hunter Rivers, rhp, Jacksonville State
8. Reed Harper, ss, Austin Peay State
9. Sam Eberle, c, Jacksonville State
10. Andrew Deeds, of/3b, Morehead State
1. Jake Bray, 3b/rhp, Jacksonville State (HS—Sparks, Nev.)
2. Kurt Lipscomb, rhp, Jacksonville State (HS—Ragland, Ala.)
3. David Hess, rhp, Tennessee Tech (HS—Tullahoma, Tenn.)
4. Kramer Drew Staples, lhp, SIU-Edwardsville (Tr.—Pierce, Wash., JC)
5. Ryan Kendall, lhp, Southeast Missouri State (Tr.—Johnson County, Kan., JC).

• Austin Peay won the conference regular season and tournament, then beat Georgia Tech in regional play. The Governors return their entire regular lineup, led by So. 2B Jordan Hankins (.351/.436/.505), who hit the game-winning homer against the Yellow Jackets, and Jr. 1B John Hogan (.310/.348/.539), who tied for the league lead with 13 home runs last year. The rotation rebuilds around Sr. RHP Zach Toney (6-3, 4.72) and a trio of junior-college transfers, including submarine closer RHP Tyler Rogers (Tr.—Garden City, Kan., CC). He’s the brother of Kentucky ace Taylor Rogers.

• Jacksonville State posted its ninth straight winning season under Jim Case, who enters his 11th season with four seniors in his starting lineup—including RF Kyle Bluestein (.346/.411/.610), C Sam Eberle (.356/.412/.547, 54 RBIs) and 1B Ben Waldrip (.344/.416/.547, 10 HR). The Gamecocks’ highest-profile performer remains So. Coty Blanchard, who threw for 1,703 yards and ran for 427 more last fall for the Gamecocks’ Football Championship Subdivision football team. He’s also been the punter for two seasons, averaging 38.2 yards per kick. Blanchard moves to left field from third base to make room for impact recruit Fr. Jake Bray, a mature hitter who steps right into the veteran lineup. Jacksonville State has its own submarine closer in Sr. RHP Todd Hornsby (5-4, 2.16, 15 SV).

• Coach Matt Bragga had made Tennessee Tech much more competitive in recent years as well as a destination for scouts with recent products such as A.J. Kirby-Jones and Chad Oberacker (Athletics) and RHP Stephen Pryor (Mariners). This year’s club has less pro talent but should avoid last year’s losing record with a veteran pitching staff poised to improve on last season’s 5.64 team ERA. RHPs Tristan Archer (6-foot-3, 190 pounds), Nick Price (6-5, 190) and Matthew Shepherd (6-3, 195) all have added size in the last year, and Shepherd’s fastball has bumped 95 mph, Bragga said. Sr. RHP Cullen Park (3-3, 4.27, 59 IP/67 SO) led the team in strikeouts last year out of the bullpen and is the rare overhand thrower in an OVC bullpen.

• Southeast Missouri State welcomes back seniors at every position from catcher through to shortstop, including league player of the year fifth-year Sr. 3B Trenton Moses (.395/.502/.672), who hit 11 homers with the BBCOR bats after hitting six in his first two healthy seasons with the old, livelier bats. 2B Taylor Heon (.306/.426/.380) stands out for striking out just five times in 121 at-bats last season.

• Southern Illinois-Edwardsville completes the transition to Division I and is a full league member this season. In 19 games against league opponents last year, SIUE went 15-4, but staff aces Spencer Patton and Josh Malin graduated, as did closer Thad Hawkins. An offense paced by OFs So. Devin Caldwell (.314/.399/.513) and athletic Sr. Mitch Matecki (.302/351/.420) and Sr. 3B Zach Hawkins (.345/.407/.462) will have to pick up some the slack.