The 2011 edition of Mississippi Valley State baseball enters the season with expectation and optimism. With a good core of returning players and an athletic group of newcomers joining the program, fans can look forward to an exciting 2011 baseball season coming from Magnolia Field.
The season opens with a three-day road trip at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi before a three day swing at Florida International. The month of March will feature some important contests for the Delta Devils as they open with LSU in Baton Rouge. Conference play kicks off as MVSU hosts a series against Alcorn State March 5-6. After non-conference action at Mississippi State and Delta State, MVSU hosts Alabama A&M in a critical divisional series. The Delta Devils then go on the road to West Florida and Alabama State before returning home for Belhaven and Tougaloo College before closing out March with a evening game at the University of Memphis.
April sees MVSU hosting SWAC Eastern Division foe Jackson State April 2-3 before traveling to Alcorn State the following weekend. The Devils will travel to the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa before road trips to Alabama A&M and Louisiana-Monroe. The latter part of the month showcases a home series with Alabama State, games versus Delta State and Central Arkansas before ending the month at Dallas Baptist University.
May again opens with Jackson State in a series that could decide the SWAC Eastern Division. The Devils will face possible NCAA participants in Mississippi State and Louisiana Tech before playing in the 2011 SWAC Baseball Tournament.
The Delta Devils will return a number of players from last season’s team that made it to the SWAC Tournament. Along with some key newcomers, Mississippi Valley State could find itself again in the hunt for a Eastern Division title and a possible conference championship.
One focal point will be the middle infield which returns starters shortstop Jerry Hildreth and second baseman Curtis Ford. Hildreth was the team’s leader and spark plug last season. The Colorado native was first on the team in batting average (.368), first in runs scored (52), first in hits (70), first in stolen bases (38), second in runs batted in (42), second in doubles (10) and triples (5), third in slugging percentage (.505), third in on-base percentage (.439) – all from the leadoff position. Ford is a two-year starter at second base and was among the team leaders in runs (29), hits (40), walks (26) and assists (88). Ford will be looked upon to better his .261 batting average and provide even more leadership for the team.
A host of utility-style players are also retuning, looking to provide a stable position on the playing field. Luke Walker, Ricky Hefflinger, Kylie Ming are players who look to make more starts and provide solid performances on the field. Walker saw action in 48 games last season, batting .299 with 25 runs scored, 47 hits, nine doubles and 28 runs batted in. Hefflinger played in 43 games with a .247 batting average with 17 runs scored and 18 runs batted in. Hefflinger has also impressed the coaching staff and may even see some time on the pitching mound in 2011. Ming, a converted second baseman who played catcher for most of the season, was solid for the Devils in 2010. He finished the season batting .295 with 35 runs scored, 39 hits, 23 runs batting in and 14 stolen bases. Other players to watch include first baseman Denarvus Turner, who finished 2010 with a batting average of .274 with nine runs batted in, and catcher Nick Fangonilo, a scholar-athlete who came to MVSU as the 2007 San Francisco 3A Player of the Year and multiple-time all-conference awardee in baseball and football.
Two returning outfielders who should provide some stability are Chris Norman and Allen Check. Norman batted .234 in 35 games last season with 11 runs scored and 15 runs batted in. Cheek provides some speed in the field and on the base path for MVSU. He finished the 2010 season batting .193 with 21 runs scored, 22 hits, 10 stolen bases and 26 walks drawn. Both will be expected to play a greater role for the team.
The pitching staff will be paramount to the outcome of the Delta Devils’ success this season. Returning are starters David Brauhn and Steven Barnes along with key relievers Kameron Stady, Cody Parker and Mark Kaplan. Brauhn returns as the team’s leader in wins with six and an earned run average of 7.65. He threw 62 innings of work allowing 53 earned wins, 34 walks and struck out 35 batters. Barnes led the team in strikeouts with 64 and finished the season with a 5-6 record, a 6.96 earned run average, and a opposing batting average of .265 in 63 1/3 innings of work. Stady, Parker, and Kaplan should work a good number of relief innings for the team. Stady made 20 appearances for the team, working 32 2/3 innings, striking out 31 batters and holding opposing batters to a .223 average. Parker was among the national leader in appearances with 40, allowing 19 earned runs and striking out 43 batters. Kaplan made 11 appearances striking out six.
Among the newcomers who are expected to make an impact for the program in 2011 include:
• first baseman Brendan Miller (Taber, Alberta) – Played for Colby Community College where he had an average of .420 with three home runs and 32 RBI's. In 2009, he had an average of .473 with four home runs and 45 RBI'S. Was named to the 2nd team all region.
• second baseman Andrew Brown (Byhalia, Mississippi) - Hit over .300 every year along with only making 4 errors in 4 years. Named all district as a junior and MVP and defensive player of the year his senior year.
• third baseman Scott Hornstra (Rocky Mountain House, Alberta) – In 2009, he had an .396 batting average with 15 doubles, one triple, and three home runs. Also pitched 46 innings with an 4.44 ERA.
• pitcher Zack Burk (Hernando, Mississippi) - Went to Hernando High going 17-3 and had 182 strikeouts. Was named first team all district, and first team all- Chickasaw. All district MVP.
• pitcher Morris Jones (Cleveland, Ohio) - Played for Collinwood High pitching 24 innings and had 51 strikeouts. Was named an All Senate All-Star his sophomore through senior year.