The University of Evansville baseball team will be seeking its first Missouri Valley Conference title since 2006, when the Purple Aces close their regular season at Missouri State this weekend. UE will open the three-game series with the Bears Thursday, May 15, at 6:35 p.m. at Hammons Field and will clinch at least a share of the MVC crown with a win or an Indiana State loss at Bradley.
Evansville (33-17, 14-4 MVC) swept Illinois State in a key MVC series last weekend at Braun Stadium to open up a two-game lead over Indiana State in the conference standings. Junior Boomer Synek earned MVC Player of the Week accolades for his performance against the Redbirds, as he finished the series 4-for-9 with a double, a home run and nine RBI. Juniors Kevin Kaczmarski and Kyle Pollock combined to go 12-for-24 in the set with two doubles, seven RBI and eight runs scored.
Junior Kyle Freeland was named the MVC Pitcher of the Week for the third time this season, after allowing just four hits in a seven-inning, complete-game shutout in game one of Saturday’s doubleheader. The southpaw struck out five without a walk to move into seventh on UE’s all-time strikeout list. Senior Cole Isom picked up the win in Saturday’s nightcap by surrendering just one run on six hits in his 7.0 innings of work.
The Aces enter the series hitting .287 as a team with a .387 slugging percentage that includes a league-best 100 doubles, 11 triples and 15 home runs. UE boasts a .385 on-base percentage and five Evansville regulars are reaching base at a .400 clip or better. In addition, the Aces have stolen 45 bases in 64 chances are lead the MVC with a .971 fielding percentage.
Individually, Kaczmarski leads the team with a .322 average, 18 doubles, five triples 50 RBI and a .523 slugging percentage, and is tied for the team lead with four long balls. His 50 RBI lead the Valley, while his 18 doubles ranks second behind only Illinois State’s Paul DeJong. Pollock, who ranks second in the conference with 48 RBI, is hitting .314 with 14 doubles and four homers, while sophomore Josh Jyawook is hitting .313, leads the club with a .415 on-base percentage and ranks second on the squad with 41 runs scored.
UE’s pitching staff has combined for a 4.09 ERA and .269 opposing batting average with 357 strikeouts and 156 walks in 433.2 innings. Freeland leads the staff with a stellar 9-1 record, 1.75 ERA and 111 strikeouts against just seven walks in 87.2 innings pitched. The Denver, Colo., native was named to the 30-man Golden Spikes Award watch list and ranks in the top 20 nationally in six separate categories. Isom is 6-4 on the year with a 3.28 ERA with 33 strikeouts and 21 walks in 68.2 innings. In relief, fellow senior Sam Johns is tied for the MVC lead with 10 saves and has registered 23 strikeouts in 28.1 frames out of the bullpen.
Missouri State (21-28, 7-11 MVC) was swept last weekend at Indiana State despite taking leads in all three contests and is 2-8 in its last 10 contests. The Bears dropped the series opener to the Sycamores, 10-7, before falling in a pair of one-run games, 6-5 and 4-3, Saturday and Sunday.
As a team, MSU is hitting .259 with 82 doubles, 11 triples and 24 home runs for a .365 slugging percentage. Missouri State has posted a .344 on-base percentage, is 38-for-59 on the base paths and is fielding .970 as a squad. Reigning MVC Freshman of the Year Tate Matheny leads the Bears in the nearly every offensive category, as the sophomore outfielder is hitting .333 with eight doubles, two triples, nine home runs, 34 RBI and 35 runs scored. Eric Cheray is second on the team with a .291 average and 28 RBI, while Dylan Becker has posted a .255 average with 23 RBI and a team-best 10 stolen bases.
The Bears’ pitching staff has posted a 3.80 ERA with 374 strikeouts, 176 walks and a .253 opposing batting average in 431.1 innings. Friday night starter Cody Schumacher leads the team with a 5-1 record and 2.76 ERA in 62.0 innings of work. Schumacher has racked up 55 strikeouts against 22 walks and is holding opponents to a .220 batting average. Clay Murphy is 4-3 on the year with a 2.88 ERA and a team-high 75 strikeouts, while Jon Harris is 2-5 with a 2.96 ERA in his 10 starts, which span a team-high 70.0 innings. Adam Anawalt has saved four games for MSU out of the bullpen in 10.0 innings of relief.
Missouri State leads the all-time series with Evansville, 45-37, and the Bears won three of the five meetings between the two teams last season. The Aces are 10-7 against MSU under head coach Wes Carroll and eliminated Missouri State from last year’s MVC Tournament with a 4-2 victory on May 23.