Feb. 9, 2012

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Guttin gettin’ it done at Missouri State

By Phil Stanton

CollegeBaseballInsider.com Co-Founder

Phil@collegebaseballinsider.com @RoadToOmaha


This is how crazy baseball can be. Missouri State played six games against Creighton at TD Ameritrade Park over its final seven games in 2011. Both teams scored 22 times in those six contests, but the Bears lost five of the six.


“We went there for the last league weekend, and they were all low-scoring close ballgames,” Bears coach Keith Guttin (left) said. “They did more that we did.”


Creighton had a half-game lead over Missouri State for first place at the start of that weekend series and posted wins of 3-2, 3-1 and 3-1 to clinch the regular-season title.


As fate would have it, the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament also was held at TD Ameritrade Park, the new home of the College World Series. Missouri State topped Southern Illinois 6-4 to open the tournament and then saw those Bluejays again.


“We beat them in the second round,” Guttin said. “And they got us again and put us out. So basically they had our number last year, no question.”


The Bears bounced Creighton 10-3 in that second-round contest, but the Bluejays won 6-5 and 4-3 in 12 innings to advance to the MVC championship game.


Missouri State finished 33-23 in 2011 and returns eight position starters and seven pitchers among its 19 letter-winners back for 2012.


“Anybody will tell you that if you have a lot of experience back at the Division I level, that’s a huge plus,” Guttin said. “We feel good about the guys. It’s not just that you have returning guys. You need to return some quality guys and we feel like we do.”


The Bears lost leadoff hitter Aaron Conway (.325, 52 R, 75 H, 16 2B, 5 3B, 3 HR, 32 RBI, 19-24 SB), but return most of the rest of the offense.


Brock Chaffin is the top stick back. The senior first baseman batted .344 a season ago with 13 doubles, six homers and 37 RBI. Senior third baseman Brent Seifert (.289, 16 2B) also provided some pop, with nine home runs and 43 RBI.


Three-time First Team All-MVC second baseman Kevin Medrano (left) hit .325 in 2011 with 67 hits, 34 runs and 34 RBI. He drew 21 walks and struck out just 14 times. Medrano was selected in the 14th round by the St. Louis Cardinals in the 2011 MLB Draft but elected to return for his senior season.


“Being back with all my friends,” Medrano said about his return to Missouri State. “And knowing that we’re going to have a pretty good team and hopefully make a run for a Regional and maybe further than that. So I decided to come back.”


Medrano has not had a chance to experience NCAA postseason play yet, but looks forward to the possibility.


“We’ll be ecstatic,” Medrano said. “We haven’t been there since ’03 when we made it to the College World Series, so it would be a great feeling for all of us.”


On the mound, Nick Petree (9-2, 2.81, 2 SV, 96 IP, 86 H, 27 BB, 81 K) was the MVC Freshman of the Year in 2011. And he will have plenty of staff help.


“We have a guy in Pierce Johnson who was throwing as well as anyone we had the last half of the year,” Guttin said. “We chose to use him as a midweek starter and a weekend wild card guy and he was effective in both those roles.”


The junior right-hander was 6-5 with two saves and a 4.76 ERA. Johnson struck out 72 in 75.2 innings.


“We return Grant Gordon, who was our closer as a freshman,” Guttin said. “We feel like he’s a lot more suited for that role. He started last year, but I think closing’s his forte and he’s going to go back in that role.”


Gordon was 3-6 with a 4.26 ERA. The junior righty allowed 82 hits in 69.2 innings with 41 walks and 50 strikeouts. Gordon had four wins and seven saves during his rookie campaign. He fanned 74 in 56 innings for 11.89 strikeouts per nine innings, seventh in the nation and first among Division I freshmen.


This will be Guttin’s 30th season as head coach at Missouri State. He has led the Bears to seven NCAA Regionals, including six in a nine-year span from 1995-2003. Missouri State won the Lincoln Regional in 2003 and outscored Ohio State twice in Columbus in the Super Regional to earn the school’s first trip to Omaha.


Guttin is eight wins away from 1,000, owning a record of 992-630 in 29 years with the Bears. But he doesn’t want to talk about that milestone.


“I’m just worried about the next win, to be honest with you,” Guttin said. “You don’t think about those kinds of things. I’ve been here a long time. We’ve had a lot of good players, we’ve had a lot of good assistant coaches and the administration has been supportive. If you’re there for a long time, you’re going to accumulate some wins.”


Amazingly, his top two assistants have put in a combined 54 years on his staff. Brent Thomas has been with Guttin for all 30 years. Thomas was an outfielder for the Bears in 1981 and 1982 and became a coach when Guttin took over in 1983. Pitching coach Paul Evans has been with the program for 24 years.


Medrano is a believer in Guttin, a former Missouri State second baseman as well.


“He knows what he’s doing,” Medrano said. “He has a lot of confidence in his guys and is an all-around great coach to play for.


“Coming in as a freshman I didn’t know how to turn a double play and he taught me the ropes on how to be quicker on my feet and made me learn that position even better.”


The Missouri Valley Conference was strong in 2011, ranking seventh in conference RPI. Missouri State is the favorite in the 2012 MVC preseason coaches’ poll, but it should be another tightly contested race.


“I think it’s going to be very competitive,” Guttin said. “If you look at the teams on paper, I think six of the eight have a lot of returning quality players. I think the league will be stronger as a whole than it was a year ago.”


(photos courtesy of Missouri State Media Relations Office)