After earning their eighth NCAA Division I Championship berth, the Missouri State Bears (39-20) enter the Coral Gables Regional as the No. 3 seed and will match up against the second-seeded UCF Knights (43-15) to open tournament play Friday (June 1) at 1 p.m. (Central) at Alex Rodriguez Park at Mark Light Field. The top-seeded Miami Hurricanes (36-21) will meet the fourth-seeded Stony Brook Seawolves (46-11) in the second game Friday at 6 p.m. Regional play continues through Monday (June 4) with a double-elimination format.
AUDIO (Interview with Missouri State coach Keith Guttin 7:15)
Of the three potential opponents at the Coral Gables Regional, Missouri State has faced only Miami in the past, dropping a pair of postseason games against the Hurricanes in 1996 and 2003. The Hurricanes eliminated the Bears from the 1996 Central I Regional in Austin, Texas, with an 8-2 decision. Miami also claimed a 7-5 win from MSU in its last NCAA contest–another elimination game–at the College World Series on June 16, 2003.
The Bears have compiled a 10-7 cumulative record this season against the 2012 NCAA field, going 3-0 vs. Creighton, 1-2 vs. Dallas Baptist, 2-1 vs. Indiana State, 0-2 vs. Missouri, 3-1 vs. Oral Roberts, 0-1 vs. Purdue and 1-0 vs. Texas-Arlington.
Following a disappointing end to an otherwise memorable bounce-back 2011 season, Missouri State entered the new year as the preseason choice to capture the Missouri Valley Conference regular-season title for the fourth time in the last 12 seasons under 30th-year head coach Keith Guttin. After a rough start to opening weekend in Lubbock, Texas, the Bears rebounded to win 20 of their next 24 games to post their best start to a season in a decade. MSU finished strong, posting road series wins over both Wichita State and MVC regular-season champ Indiana State to finish second in the No. 5 RPI conference in all of Division I baseball.
Leading the way for the Bears has been second baseman Kevin Medrano (.328, 23 RBI, 19 2B, 11 SB) who leads the club in hitting and ranks third in the MVC in doubles and fourth in the league in total hits. The senior from Lee’s Summit, Mo., enjoyed a torrid second half of the season after a sluggish start to move into second place on MSU’s career hits list (306) and earn his fourth straight first-team All-MVC nod. Junior Keenen Maddox (.310, 7 HR, 29 RBI) has been the Bears’ top power threat since the beginning of April, hitting all seven of his club-best seven homers and recording 22 of his 29 RBIs over the same stretch. Serving as the Bears’ primary DH, Maddox clubbed a pair of critical homers to help the Bears take two of three games from regular-season champ Indiana State, then hit .438 at last week’s State Farm MVC Championship to earn all-tourney honors. Senior second-team All-MVC OF Spiker Helms (.280, 6 HR, 39 RBI) ranks among the MVC’s top 10 performers in a number of different offensive categories, including a team-leading 22 doubles and a league-high 41 walks. Two more second-team All-MVC performers, Brock Chaffin (.291, 2 HR, 41 RBI) has 18 multi-hit games and at least one RBI in 25 contests, while junior catcher Luke Voit (.305, 6 HR, 46 RBI) has five game-winning RBIs this season and 16 for his MSU career to rank ninth in school history. Freshman Eric Cheray has provided a stabilizing effect on the Bears’ infield, making each of the last 48 games at shortstop. Cheray turned in one of his best weeks at the plate at the MVC Championship, going 7-for-16 (.438) to earn all-tournament honors.
The Bears’ pitching staff has been the strength of the team throughout the regular season, bringing the nation’s lowest team earned run average into the postseason, despite a series of key injuries. MSU has already set school single-season records for shutouts (11) and is on pace to eclipse all-time program standards for strikeouts and ERA. National pitcher of the year candidate Nick Petree (10-3, 0.92) was named MVC Pitcher of the Year after turning in a string of 73 consecutive innings without allowing an earned run, as well as a school-record 38.1 straight scoreless frames into the final week of the regular season. Junior right-hander Pierce Johnson (3-6, 2.55) has been dominant over his first 13 starts of the season in spite of a lack of run support that has resulted in four one-run setbacks. After missing two starts in April due to a forearm strain, Johnson has returned to form over his last three starts and brings the nation’s 10th-best strikeout total into the postseason. Junior righty Cody Schumacher (8-1, 3.57) has been a dependable third starter in his first year as a Bear, helping his club claim wins in 14 of his 16 starts to date to pick up honorable mention all-conference honors and all-tournament honors at last week’s MVC Championship after posting his first shutout as a Bear against Wichita State. Finally, the Bears’ bullpen has been nearly as dominant as the rotation, fashioning a string of 18 1/3 consecutive scoreless innings over nine outings (March 13-25), and a 0.53 ERA over a 17-game span (Feb. 29-March 25). MVC Freshman of the Year Tyler Burgess (5-1, 1.63, 11 saves) has been sensational in his MSU debut to lead the group, notching a victory or a save in each of his first seven appearances as a Bear without allowing an earned run to earn First-Team All-MVC honors and NCBWA National Stopper of the Year consideration.