Led by seven returning regular starters and a deep veteran pitching staff, the Missouri State baseball squad has been tabbed the Missouri Valley Conference favorite by the league’s coaches in their annual preseason poll, which was announced Wednesday. Additionally, senior second baseman Kevin Medrano and sophomore pitcher Nick Petree earned spots on the preseason all-conference team.

The Bears of head coach Keith Guttin tallied 60 points–including five of the eight possible first-place votes–to narrowly edge second-place pick Creighton (53 points), which garnered the remaining three first-place votes after capturing the league’s regular-season and tournament titles in 2011.

Wichita State totaled 47 points to place third in the poll, while Indiana State (37 points) came in fourth and Illinois State finished close behind in fifth with 34 points.

Southern Illinois (31 points) earned the sixth spot, followed by Bradley (15 points) and Evansville (11 points) in seventh and eighth place, respectively.

A first-team all-Missouri Valley Conference selection each of his first three years at Missouri State, Medrano has the chance to become the first player in the 66-year history of MVC play to receive that honor in four straight seasons. Last year, he batted .325 with 13 stolen bases after ranking second in the Valley in 2010 with a .410 batting average to go with four homers and 29 RBIs. The Lee’s Summit, Mo., native enters his final collegiate season just nine hits shy of cracking MSU’s top 10 list for career hits.

Petree was named Missouri Valley Conference Freshman of the Year in 2011. The Clinton, Mo., product picked up Freshman All-America honors from both the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association (NCBWA) and Collegiate Baseball after going 9-2 with a 2.81 ERA and setting MSU freshman records for wins and innings pitched (96.0). He also picked up two saves in five relief appearances early in the year, while throwing two complete games and holding opponents to a .236 batting average for the season.

Missouri State will kick off the 2012 season February 17 with games against Tennessee Tech (Noon) and Texas Tech (4 p.m.) in Lubbock, Texas.

2012 MVC Baseball Preseason Poll