MSU baseball picked to finish second, two Bears earn all-league honors


St. LOUIS – Missouri State baseball is picked to finish second in the Missouri Valley Conference this season with second baseman Mason Hull and outfielder Spencer Nivens tabbed as preseason all-league selections according to a vote of the Valley’s coaches, the conference announced Tuesday.

A preseason third-team All-America selection this season by Collegiate Baseball, Hull batted .282 with 15 home runs and 50 RBI in 52 games for the Bears in 2022, adding 18 doubles for a share of the team lead with 33 extra-base hits. He slugged .574 and posted a stellar .969 fielding percentage, one year after a .982 mark at second base that earned him all-Missouri Valley Conference Defensive Team honors as a junior.

The fifth-year senior from Effingham, Ill., recorded two hits in an inning on three different occasions for the high-powered Bears last season, was the MVC Player of the Week on Feb. 21, and hit the go-ahead home run in the ninth inning of MSU’s 8-7 victory over Grand Canyon in the NCAA Regional.

A Collegiate Baseball Freshman All-American in 2022, Nivens led Missouri State with a .346 batting average last season with 11 home runs and 52 RBI while starting all 60 games and batting leadoff 46 times. A third-year sophomore from Columbia, Mo., Nivens posted a .443 on-base percentage and reached safely in 55 of 60 contests, including a 30-game on-base streak along with hit streaks of 13 and 12 games as a second-team all-MVC choice.

Nivens tallied 24 multi-hit games and 15 multiple-RBI efforts in 2022 and finished the year in the top 10 in Missouri State history in single-season runs scored (t-4th, 71), walks (t-6th, 44) and singles (t-10th, 59). Two of his home runs led off games (April 3 at Samford, May 19 at Bradley), and he hit two long balls in the NCAA Regional.

The Bears are coming off a 31-29 season that ended on a high note with an MVC Tournament championship and the program’s fourth NCAA Regional appearance in the last seven tournaments. Missouri State has 23 newcomers on the roster, with pitcher Jake Eddington and Hayden Minton and catcher Cody Kelly ranked among the top 50 transfers nationally according to D1Baseball. The Bears also return three double-digit home run hitters from last year’s club that ranked second in school and fifth in MVC history with 110 homers, including Hull, Nivens, and Mason Greer.

MSU head coach Keith Guttin enters his 41st season in charge of the Bears ranked third among active Division I coaches (and 16th all-time) with 1,340 victories. Guttin trails only Danny Hall of Georgia Tech (1,348) and Minnesota’s John Anderson (1,347).

Southern Illinois is the favorite to repeat with 93 points and six first-place votes, MSU earned 87 points and a trio of first-place nods, Evansville came in third with 79 points and Indiana State received the remaining top vote and earned 75 points for fourth. Bradley came in fifth with 58 points, followed by Belmont (53), Illinois State (35), UIC (25), Murray State (23), and Valparaiso (22).

The Bears begin the 2023 season Feb. 17 with a three-game series at Cal Poly and open the home slate on Feb. 24 against Central Arkansas.

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