2017 Conference Previews: Ohio Valley Conference

Alex Robles

SEE ALSO: College Preview Index

Members: Austin Peay State, Belmont, Eastern Illinois, Eastern Kentucky, Jacksonville State, Morehead State, Murray State, Southeast Missouri State, Southern Illinois-Edwardsville, Tennessee-Martin, Tennessee Tech.

2017 Top 10 Prospects
1. John Sparks, lhp, Austin Peay State
2. Zach Neff, lhp, Austin Peay State
3. Tyler Lawrence, c, Murray State
4. Taylor Hawthorne, ss, Jacksonville State
5. Clayton Daniel, 2b, Jacksonville State
6. Brandon Gutzler, of, Murray State
7. Alex Robles, rhp, Austin Peay State
8. Clay Chandler, rhp, Southeast Missouri State
9. Michael McCormick, rhp, Eastern Illinois
10. Kyle Wilson, ss, Austin Peay State

Team to Beat: Austin Peay State. The Governors finished third in the OVC last year in head coach Travis Janssen’s first season at the helm. Now, they are ready for more. APSU returns its entire rotation and has experienced hitters in its lineup, particularly in the heart of the order. Senior righthander/DH Alex Robles will be asked to carry a heavy load, but he’ll be supported in the rotation by junior lefthander Mike Costanzo (7-4, 6.60) and senior righthander Caleb Powell (7-2, 3.96), and in the lineup by senior right fielder Chase Hamilton (.332/.405/.620, 12 HR) and senior first baseman Dre Gleason (.320/.446/.535, 9 HR). The Governors also receive a boost as redshirt-junior outfielder Cayce Bredlau returns to the lineup after being sidelined by injury nearly all of last year. APSU will have to replace bullpen ace Jared Carkuff (6-1, 3.57), but junior lefthanders Zach Neff and John Sparks have the stuff to take a step forward this season. With a veteran team that has had a year to become accustomed to Janssen and his staff, the Governors will have their sights set on returning to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2013.

Player of the Year: Kevin Strohschein, OF, Tennessee Tech. Strohschein made quite the introduction to college baseball last season and earned All-Freshman honors after hitting .393/.447/.707 with 15 home runs and 73 RBIs. He was named the conference’s freshman of the year and co-player of the year, becoming the first player in OVC history to win both awards in the same season. It will be hard for Strohshein to improve on that performance this spring, but if he can just come close to matching it, he’ll again by the conference’s most dangerous hitter.

Freshman of the Year: Connor Aube, OF, Tennessee-Martin. Aube was a two-sport standout for Falmouth (Maine) High, where he set the school’s single-season rushing record on the football field as a junior as well as excelling on the diamond. He is an above-average runner, which he makes the most of both on the bases and in center field.

Top 25 Teams: None.

Notable Storylines: Southeast Missouri State has won the regular season title the last three years and broke through to regionals by capturing the OVC Tournament championship last season. But the Redhawks have a new look this year following the losses of All-American lefthander Joey Lucchesi, who was drafted in the fourth round by the Padres, and head coach Steve Bieser, who left to become head coach at Missouri. Andy Sawyers takes over the program after spending the last two years as the associate head coach at Kansas State. The Redhawks should again contend for the OVC title, particularly with seniors Clay Chandler (4-5, 3.90) and Robert Beltran (8-1, 4.27) returning to the rotation and redshirt senior Chris Osborne (.367/.456/.741, 15 HR), the team’s leading hitter, back in the lineup. . . Jacksonville State finished as runners-up to SEMO in both the regular season and conference tournament. In a conference of prolific offenses, the Gamecocks’ led the OVC in hits and runs last season and return much of their lineup. Junior second baseman Clayton Daniel (.372/.443/.480) leads the returners, with junior shortstop Taylor Hawthorne (.337/.388/.533) and senior Josh Bobo (.330/.352/.586, 10 HR) joining him. Redshirt-junior closer Justin Hoyt (11 SV, 1.80 ERA) returns, but JSU will need to find some more consistent starting pitching this spring. . . Southern Illinois-Edwardsville had a tumultuous season last year, as the Cougars went 9-40, finished last in the OVC and Tony Stoecklin was removed as head coach midway through the season. SIU-E won just two games after the coaching change, but now gets to turn the page. Sean Lyons takes over as head coach after seven seasons as an assistant coach at Bradley. He’ll benefit from the return of senior Keaton Wright (.362/.420/.530) and sophomore Logan Anderson (.289/.406/.434), the Cougars’ top two hitters last season.

Tournament: Six teams, May 24-28 at Choccolocco Park in Oxford, Ala.

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