Baseball Bears picked to finish second in MVC preseason poll


St. LOUIS – Missouri State baseball is picked to finish second in the Missouri Valley Conference this season with outfielder Zack Stewart, third baseman Taeg Gollert and pitchers Garrett Ferguson and Brandt Thompson tabbed as preseason all-league selections according to a vote of the Valley’s coaches, the conference announced Tuesday.

The only freshman to earn all-Missouri Valley Conference First Team honors last season, Ferguson was a Freshman All-American according to both Collegiate Baseball and the NCBWA. The Blue Springs, Mo., native’s 1.88 ERA led all MVC pitchers with at least 25 innings. He ranked fifth nationally among freshmen in 2023 with six saves and concluded the season with eight consecutive scoreless outings spanning 10.1 innings.

Five of Ferguson’s saves came in conference games, and he went 3-0 while allowing a run on eight hits in 16 innings of league play. Ferguson allowed no runs in 16 of 21 appearances on the season and gave up multiple runs just once, fanning 27 batters in 28.2 innings with 15 hits for a .158 opponent batting average. His rate of 4.71 hits allowed per innings ranked as the fourth-best in Missouri State history (25 inning minimum).

Gollert hit .284 with 11 home runs and 40 RBI as a freshman last year, and his 19 doubles ranked second in the MVC and fifth nationally among freshmen. A native of Toronto, Ontario, Gollert tied a school single-game record with three doubles at Cal Poly in his second career outing, and on April 9 against Bradley became the first player in school history to hit two grand slams in a game, including one of his two walk-off bombs on the year. He slugged 30 total extra-base hits, trailing only Jason Hart (36 in 1996) and Ryan Howard (33 in 1999), as well as classmate Stewart, who tallied 32, among MSU freshmen.

Speaking of Stewart, the 2023 MVC Freshman of the Year makes the preseason team after slugging 12 homers with 61 RBI, a number that trailed only Howard (66 in 1999) among MoState freshmen. A Freshman All-American according to Collegiate Baseball and Perfect Game last year, the Lebanon, Mo., product ranked third in the MVC with 18 doubles, which placed him ninth nationally among freshmen, and he rated 11th in RBI among rookies. Stewart hit .302 on the season and collected 15 multi-RBI games.

Thompson was a first-team all-Valley selection last year and the first MSU starting pitcher to earn that distinction since Dylan Coleman in 2018. He posted a 3.46 ERA with 84 strikeouts in 83.1 innings and tied a school record with 17 games started in 2023. A native of Eden Prairie, Minn., the right-hander had two starts last season with nine-plus strikeouts and no walks, and his 12 K, no walk performance on March 10 versus SIUE was a first at Missouri State since at least 2012.

MSU head coach Keith Guttin enters his 42nd and final season in charge of the Bears ranked second among active Division I coaches (and 12th all-time) with 1,373 victories. Guttin trails only Danny Hall of Georgia Tech (1,378) on the active wins list.

Indiana State is the favorite to repeat with 95 points and eight first-place votes, MSU earned 89 points and a first-place nods, and Evansville came in third with 81 points and the remaining No. 1 vote. Murray State (67) edged Southern Illinois (63) for the fourth spot, Belmont (40) came in sixth, followed by Illinois State (39), UIC (34), Valparaiso (22) and Bradley (20).

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