After talking to UE baseball players and coaches last week, one thing became apparent: Everyone believes winning game one in the double-elimination Missouri Valley Conference tournament is key to taking the whole thing.
The Aces will go with their most consistent arm when they open against Missouri State on Tuesday at Duffy Bass Field, home to top seed and host Illinois State.
Senior Kyle Lloyd, UE’s Saturday starting pitcher all season behind sophomore Kyle Freeland, is 7-3 with a 2.74 earned-run average. He’ll match up with Missouri State ace Nick Petree, an amazing 8-1 with a 1.63 ERA.
The right-handed Lloyd has played second fiddle to left Freeland all season, and his top outing came against Missouri State when the teams played a series at Braun Stadium. Lloyd fanned a career-high 13 batters and threw his second complete game April 17 in a 2-1 Aces win.
The Sacramento, Calif., native and Carmel High School graduate will likely be drafted this June. He’d first like to show that his last outing — it lasted just 2 2/3 innings in a May 11 loss to Illinois State — was simply a fluke.
“It’s not really that I want to prove anything,” Lloyd said. “It’s more that I want to stay consistent and go about my business. It’s all about having confidence out there.”
Lloyd has tallied a career-high 94 strikeouts this season, second in the MVC, up from 58 a year ago when he went 6-3 with a 3.01 ERA.
Look for more on Lloyd’s first start at the No. 1 spot in Tuesday’s Courier & Press.
Other MVC tournament notes:
—UE is 21-27 all-time in the double-elimination tournament. This year marks the Aces’ 14th appearance.
—Last year, UE sandwiched a victory over Indiana State between two losses to Illinois State, which eliminated an Aces squad that finished 32-27.
—UE combined to go 4-5 against the teams in its side of the MVC tournament bracket: Missouri State (1-2), Illinois State (1-2) and Bradley (2-1).
—The Aces’ 10-10 MVC finish this year marked the first at .500 or above for coach Wes Carroll in his five seasons.
MVC tournament links:
—The tournament bracket, per mvc-sports.com