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A-State opened at home for the second consecutive season with Illinois State coming for Jonesboro for its third time since the 2014 season. The Redbirds have been the Red Wolves season-opening opponent in two of those trips (2015 and 2018).
Arkansas State won Friday’s season opener 1-0 to give them its second straight shutout to open the season after A-State defeated NYIT 6-0 last year. However, rain forced the team’s to play a doubleheader Sunday with Illinois State winning both games to earn the series win.
Junior Bradey Welsh delivered 7.2 innings of shut out baseball to earn the win in Friday’s game. He struck out eight and only walked one batter. The 7.2 innings pitched and eight strikeouts tied career highs.
The 1-0 win was the first win by that score for the Red Wolves since beating Southern Illinois by the same score on March 15, 2016. A-State won that game in 10 innings on a walk-off wild pitch.
A-State had 11 players makes their Red Wolves’ debuts over the weekend.
Jesse Kutzke earned the first save of his career Friday night in the 1-0 win over Illinois State after recording the final two outs of the game.
A-State vs. Southeast Missouri In-Depth Series History
A-State leads the all-time series with Southeast Missouri by a count of 37-33. The series began in 1959 with an A-State 3-1 win. SEMO bounced back to claim an 11-2 win in the 1960 game, but A-State won five straight contests from 1961 to the first game between the two schools in 1963. The Red Wolves won three games in the 1962 season against the Redhawks, including a 6-2 win in the Southwest Regional. SEMO broke the streak with 4-0 and 5-4 wins to end A-State’s 1963 campaign.
Arkansas State and Southeast Missouri played in the 1967 NCAA Midwest Regional of the College Division with A-State claiming a 12-6 decision. The Red Wolves defeated the Redhawks in 1968 6-1, but didn’t resume the series for 20 years until SEMO took two games in 1988.
The two teams have played every season since 1988 with the Redhawks holding a 27-26 advantage.
The series has been very even lately with head coach Tommy Raffo holding a 9-9 mark against Southeast Missouri in his career since he took over as head coach in 2009.
Last season, the two teams played on back-to-back nights with A-State claiming a 10-1 win April 4 in Jonesboro before losing a 10-4 contest in Cape Girardeau, Mo. Bradey Welsh pitched seven innings of one-run ball in the win for the Red Wolves as the team hit eight doubles, one shy of tying the school record, and scored six runs with two outs. Garrett Rucker led the offense with two hits and four RBI. The following night SEMO reliever Jared Waldhoff earned the win with 1.2 innings out of the bullpen as the Redhawks scored four runs in the bottom of the seventh to break a 2-2 tie. Chris Caffrey had two hits and three RBI for Southeast Missouri, while Justin Felix led A-State’s offense with two hits and two runs driven in.
A-State is 157-120-2 against current members of the Ohio Valley Conference. The Red Wolves have faced Murray State 102 times (50-51-1) for the most matchups, but have played SEMO, UT Martin, and Eastern Illinois all 20 times or more. SEMO is the only OVC school on the schedule this season with A-State set to make the return trip April 3.
A-State in Midweek Openers
A-State is 2-7 in midweek openers since 2009 when Tommy Raffo took over as head coach. However, only two of those games have been at home (1-1) and six of those games have been at Ole Miss, with three of the losses to the Rebels only being by one run.
This is the first time A-State is hosting its midweek opener since 2014 and the earliest they have played Southeast Missouri in a season under Raffo.
Since 2000, A-State is 9-9 in midweek openers with nine of those games at home. In 2006, the Red Wolves hosted Southeast Missouri in their first midweek game of the season and defeated the Redhawks 4-3.
Notes from Illinois State Series
A-State is now 4-9 against the Redbirds all-time after going 1-2 against them Feb. 16-18.
The Red Wolves won the opener as Bradey Welsh tossed 7.2 innings of shut out baseball to tie his career high. He struck out eight, also tying a career high and walked one, while just allowing one hit. Last season, Welsh made nine starts and allowed three or more hits in all of them.
Kyle MacDonald proved to be the offense in the opener with his first career A-State home run. MacDonald was one of 11 players to make their Red Wolves’ debut over the weekend.
Logan Andersen had a nice debut with a .333 average, while Jeremy Brown hit two doubles and had a RBI.
A-State went 3-of-4 stealing bases with Jeremy Brown and Drew Tipton successfully stealing in their attempt, while Grant Hawkins was 1-of-2.
A-State in Season Openers
The Red Wolves are now 37-34 in season openers after defeating Illinois State 1-0 Friday night. A-State has won three straight season openers, but after losing two games Sunday, it is the first time since 2012 that A-State has lost at least two of its first three games when A-State lost two games against Lamar to open the season at the Lamar Invitational and another game to Ole Miss. This is A-State’s first series loss to open the season since 2007 when the Red Wolves dropped two of three at Samford.
Head coach Tommy Raffo is 7-3 in season openers with wins over Texas State, Southern Illinois, Bradley, Miami (Ohio), UAB, NYIT, and now Illinois State. The losses are to Auburn, Lamar, and Illinois State. The Red Wolves have currently won two straight season openers.
A-State has opened at home in six of those openers under Coach Raffo with a 5-1 record in those contests. A-State is 1-2 in road season openers under Raffo and 1-0 at neutral sites.
Arkansas State’s longest win streak in season openers is eight from 1964 to 1971, while its longest losing streak is seven from 1976 to 1982.
The Red Wolves were selected to finish fourth in the Sun Belt Conference’s West Division with 36 points, ahead of Little Rock (27) and ULM (11). Louisiana was chosen to win the division with 68 points and nine first-place votes, while UT Arlington followed with 56 points and two first-place tallies. Texas State was picked ahead of A-State in third with 51 points and the final first-place vote.
South Alabama was the unanimous choice to win the East Division with 72 points and all 12 first-place votes, while Coastal Carolina followed with 59 points. Georgia Southern was third with 43, followed by Troy (41), Georgia State (20), and Appalachian State (16).
South Alabama’s Travis Swaggerty was chosen as the Preseason Player of the Year, while Troy’s Andrew Crane was the Preseason Pitcher of the Year. No Red Wolves were named Preseason All-Conference.
A-State finished 28-27 last season for its first winning season since 2014 and was 13-16 in league play to earn the seventh seed in the SBC Tournament. A-State went 2-1 in the conference tournament to become the only squad in the Sun Belt to win at least two games in the last eight conference tournaments.
A-State scored 40 runs between the final game of the regular season against Little Rock (19-2 win) and the first game of the SBC Tournament versus Georgia State (21-4 win). In the win over Little Rock, the team tallied 18 hits, drew nine walks, and tied the school record with eight hit-by-pitches. Alex Howard, Justin Felix, and Jeremy Brown each had three RBI in the game. In the win over Georgia State, the 21 runs was one shy of the most scored in a SBC Tournament contest (22 by Jacksonville in 1994). Howard hit a three-run homer in the game, while Drew Tipton hit the team’s only grand slam of the season.
Those two high-scoring affairs happened after A-State played an 18-inning game with Little Rock that ended with a Justin Felix walk-off single May 18. The 18-inning game is the second longest in school history after a 22-inning contest against Murray State in 1960 that ended in a 9-9 tie due to darkness. Felix tied the school record with four walks in the game, a feat he also accomplished on Feb. 19 against NYIT. Jake Bakamus also tied that record with four walks in the game against Little Rock. Grant Hawkins and Alex Howard set the school record with nine at-bats each in the game, while Garrett Rucker struck out five times to tie a school record.
Prior to the Little Rock series, A-State shut out Ole Miss 5-0 behind seven strong innings from Bryan Ayers in front of a record crowd at Tomlinson Stadium of 1,188. This marks the second straight season A-State beat Ole Miss in Jonesboro and was also the first shutout of the Rebels in school history.
A-State set a couple of school records last season as a team with the first being positive as the team was hit by 100 pitches. Jake Bakamus set the school record with 24 of his own and tied the school record with 45 for his career. The other team record wasn’t as positive with the pitching staff setting the walks record for the second straight season with 281, just one more than the 2016 staff.
Joe Schrimpf left A-State as its all-time leader in career RBI with 146. He passed Todd Baumgartner’s 139 on May 6 of last season against UT Arlington with his 140th.
Tyler Zuber became the highest draft pick in the MLB June Amateur Draft in school history when the Kansas City Royals chose him with the 180th pick in the sixth round. He was the first Sun Belt player taken off the board and his 2.06 ERA was the fourth best in school history with at least 50 innings pitched in a season.
Garrett Rucker tied the school record for triples in one game with two at Northwestern State Feb. 26 and shares the record with four other players.
Grant Hawkins stole 19 bases in 2017 to give him the 12th most in a single season in school history.
259 and Counting for Raffo; New Faces on Staff
A-State head coach Tommy Raffo has a career record of 259-258-1 as he is three games into his 10th season at Arkansas State. The 259 wins are the third most at the school behind J.A. “Ike” Tomlinson and Bill Bethea.
Raffo has a completely new staff to assist him this season. Rick Guarno joined the staff as an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator with his most recent stint at UT Martin. Guarno played seven seasons of professional baseball before getting into coaching.
Rowdy Hardy is the team’s new pitching coach and comes to A-State from New Mexico Military Institute in Roswell, N.M. He played six seasons of professional baseball before getting into coaching.
Volunteer assistant Craig Massoni rounds out the staff and he just concluded his playing days after five seasons of professional baseball.