Morehead State baseball wins OVC Tournament, qualifies for NCAA’s

JACKSON, Tenn. — One more trophy will be added to the Morehead State athletic department case.

The second-seeded MSU baseball team finished off a perfect run through the 2015 Ohio Valley Conference Tournament on Saturday evening with a 16-3 victory over top-seeded Southeast Missouri at The Ballpark at Jackson.

Morehead State (38-20), which has won 27 of its last 34 games, captured its first OVC Tournament title since 1993 and will appear in an NCAA Regional for the third time in program history. The Eagles will find out their regional site on Monday when the 64-team bracket is revealed at Noon ET on ESPNU. The public is invited to join the team at Buffalo Wild Wings for the selection show watch party.

“Heading into the season, I thought we had a team good enough to play in an NCAA Regional,” Head Coach Mike McGuire said. “We had so many key contributors coming back, with lots of accomplished position players and some good arms. We really struggled during a two-week stretch in March but have played quality baseball in all three phases since then. Our veterans have provided great leadership, on and off the field, and got us back on track when things weren’t going well for this club.”

The Eagles finished 3-0 in the tournament, knocking off fourth-seeded Tennessee Tech on Thursday and sixth-seeded Belmont on Friday. MSU set single-season program records for wins and conference wins (20) this year. Morehead State’s overall winning percentage (.655) is its best since going 28-11 (.718) in 1976, and the program has improved by 22 wins from 2013 to 2015 (16-40 to 38-20).

“I am incredibly proud of our players, assistant coaches and everyone associated with Morehead State baseball,” McGuire said. “This championship is great for our university and program. A lot of hard work went into this. It definitely didn’t happen overnight. When I took the job (three years ago), I said we needed to complete nationally and go to NCAA Regionals. To be honest, I wanted us to be disappointed if we didn’t win the conference tournament and advance to a regional.”

The 13-run victory margin was the largest in a championship game since 1994. The Redhawks, who have been the top seed in the OVC Tournament two straight seasons, finished their campaign at 36-23. SEMO defeated Morehead State twice during the three-game regular-season series.

“I have a lot of respect for Southeast Missouri’s program, but I knew the results could be different because we are a much-improved team,” McGuire added. “We played SEMO at the very beginning of the conference schedule when we were still trying to figure things out. They have a lot of terrific players, but thought we would have a chance if we stayed in the winner’s bracket and they had to wear themselves down in the loser’s bracket. That may have been the case tonight.”

Morehead State sophomore third baseman Alex Stephens was named tournament Most Valuable Player. He went 2-for-5 with a pair of runs in the finale and concluded the week hitting 7-for-14 (.500) with six runs batted in. Stephens became the second MSU player to be named tournament MVP, joining Jason Chandler in 1993.

Junior pitcher Craig Pearcy, senior catcher Chris Robinson, senior first baseman Kane Sweeney and senior designated hitter Clayton Meyer also earned spots on the All-Tournament Team.

MSU pounded out 17 hits in the title game, its 37th game this season in double-digits. Sweeney belted a grand slam in the sixth inning, his team-best 14th round-tripper this year. Senior right fielder Brandon Rawe added a two-run homer in the eighth and both finished with four RBI. Robinson tied the program single-season hit record (held by Rawe in 2014) with his 98th.

The Eagles, who lead the nation in doubles, batting average, hits and slugging percentage, added four more doubles to up their season total to a school-record 169. They have eclipsed the previous double mark by 33 (136 in 2005).

MSU jumped out to an 8-0 advantage after two frames, scoring five times in the opening inning, and tacked on runs in the fourth and fifth. The Eagles erupted for four more in the sixth and finished off the scoring with Rawe’s two-run homer.

Freshman right-hander Brent Stoneking (5-1) tossed the final 4.1 innings and allowed just three hits and no earned runs. The Morehead State pitching staff surrendered just 15 hits and seven earned runs in the three tournament games. The loss was pinned on SEMO starter Matthew Wade (3-2).

The NCAA Tournament features 16 four-team regionals. All regionals are double elimination.

“None of our players have NCAA Regional experience, but I think we can still be competitive because of the schedule we’ve played,” McGuire added. “Part of my scheduling philosophy has been to play multiple top-100 teams from power conferences each season. We’ve definitely challenged ourselves the past two years with opponents like Louisville, Kentucky, Tennessee, San Diego, Clemson, Indiana, Ohio State and others. I hope those environments and experiences help us next weekend.”

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