Southeast Missouri State coach Andy Sawyers watches his players warm up for practice Friday, Jan. 27, 2017, at Capaha Field. (Trent Singer)
The Southeast Missouri State baseball team was picked as a co-favorite along with Jacksonville State in the 2017 Ohio Valley Conference race, while three Redhawks were named to the Preseason All-OVC team, all of which was announced by the league on Friday.
Outfielder Chris Osborne and starting pitchers Clay Chandler and Robert Beltran were SEMO's three players selected to the preseason team.
This is the third year in a row that Southeast has been picked as a preseason favorite, which is the first time in the history of the conference that a team has been tabbed to win three straight times. The Redhawks are the three-time reigning OVC regular-season champions and are coming off a campaign in which they claimed an OVC tournament title to secure a spot in the NCAA Tournament. Southeast set a program record for wins in a season a year ago, finishing 39-21 overall and 22-8 in league play.
The Redhawks will be under the direction of first-year coach Andy Sawyers in 2017. Sawyers most recently served as sssociate head coach at Kansas State. He's been to two College World Series, three NCAA Super Regionals and 10 NCAA Regionals during his 18-year coaching career.
"With this being my first year in the league, it's hard for me to say if we're going to win a fourth-straight title, but what I do know is that I really like our team," Sawyers said. "The team has given us great effort and buy-in in terms of working with a new coaching staff, and we have approached them with the mentality of, 'We know you guys are winners and good competitors.' And they've proved that with their track record.
"I think we're going to be good, and I think we will be very competitive. And I'm confident we will be top third of the league and competing for a conference championship the last couple weeks of the season."
Southeast returns 21 players in 2017, a group that's comprised of 11 seniors, including Osborne, Chandler and Beltran.
Osborne was picked as an NCBWA Preseason All-American on Jan. 31 and had the biggest impact of any Redhawks last season. He finished the season as the national slugging percentage champion (.741) and was a first team All-OVC and OVC All-Tournament team selection. The native of Edmonds, Washington, finished with a team-high 15 home runs and led the Redhawks with a .367 batting average. He appeared in 40 games, starting 36 times, and was third on the team with 44 RBIs.
Chandler was 4-5 on the mound in 2016, nothing 96 strikeouts in 16 appearances (15 starts). He finished the season with an ERA of 3.90 in 97 innings of work and was named one of Louisville Slugger's National Players of the Week on two occasions. Chandler picked up OVC Pitcher of the Week honors three times and finished the season as a second team All-OVC selection.
Beltran was a first team All-OVC pick last season after securing the No. 3 spot in SEMO's weekend rotation during his first year with the program. He started 16 games and finished with an 8-1 record, recording 78 strikeouts (ninth in the OVC) in 86 1/3 innings of work. The lefty was unbeaten in his final 15 starts and was 5-0 in OVC play.
Five different teams picked up first-place votes, with Jacksonville State securing seven votes and Southeast garnering six votes. Both teams had 174 points. Austin Peay (163 points) picked up five first-place votes and was third in the voting, while Tennessee Tech (151 points) was fourth with two first-place votes. Morehead State (131 points) was fifth in the voting, followed by Belmont (117 points) in sixth, Murray State (two first-place votes, 110 points) in seventh, Eastern Kentucky (74 points) in eighth, UT Martin (46 points) in ninth, SIU-Edwardsville (39 points) in 10th and Eastern Illinois (31 points) in 11th.
Tennessee Tech outfielder Kevin Strohschein was named OVC Preseason Player of the Year, while Austin Peay's Alex Robles was selected OVC Preseason Pitcher of the Year.
The Redhawks begin the 2017 season on Feb. 17 with a doubleheader against UT Arlington and Stephen F. Austin in Nacogdoches, Texas.
2017 OVC Predicted Order of Finish
(Selected by OVC Head Baseball Coaches and Sports Information Directors)
1. Jacksonvillle State (7 first-place votes) - 174 points
Southeast Missouri (6 first-place votes) - 174
3. Austin Peay (5 first-place votes) - 163
4. Tennessee Tech (2 first-place votes) - 151
5. Morehead State - 131
6. Belmont - 117
7. Murray State (2 first-place votes) - 110
8. Eastern Kentucky - 74
9. UT Martin - 46
10. SIUE - 39
11. Eastern Illinois - 31
2017 Preseason All-OVC Baseball Team
Preseason Player of the Year: Kevin Strohschein (OF), Tennessee Tech
Preseason OVC Pitcher of the Year: Alex Robles (RHP), Austin Peay
C Tyler Lawrence, Murray State *
1B Ramsey Scott, Murray State *
2B Clayton Daniel, Jacksonville State *
SS Reid Leonard, Morehead State #
3B Josh Bobo, Jacksonville State
OF Kevin Strohschein, Tennessee Tech *
OF Chris Osborne, Southeast Missouri *
OF Brennan Washington, Belmont #
OF Chase Hamilton, Austin Peay #
OF Will Schneider, Morehead State #
OF Adam Bauer, Murray State #
DH Keaton Wright, SIUE #
UT Clay Payne, Belmont #
SP Robert Beltran, Southeast Missouri *
SP Alex Robles, Austin Peay #
SP Tyler Vaughn, Belmont #
SP Clay Chandler, Southeast Missouri #
RP Justin Hoyt, Jacksonville State *
* - 1st team All-OVC team in 2016
# - 2nd team All-OVC team in 2016