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EKU baseball collects OVC Pitcher and Coach of the Year awards

JACKSON, Tenn. – Eastern Kentucky University senior right-hander Matt Fyffe was voted the Ohio Valley Conference Pitcher of the Year, head coach Jason Stein was voted the OVC Coach of the Year and five Colonels were named to All-OVC teams at the annual conference Awards Banquet held on the eve of the 2012 OVC Baseball Tournament on Tuesday night.

The awards were voted on by league head coaches and sports information directors. EKU, the OVC regular season co-champion, had the most first team All-OVC selections (three) of any school.

Fyffe, who was one of those first team All-OVC selections, was a dominant force on the EKU pitching staff all spring, finishing the regular season with a 9-0 record and a 1.51 ERA in 65.2 innings pitched. He stifled opposing hitters to a .209 batting average. His nine wins led the OVC and his 1.51 ERA led the OVC and ranked seventh in the country. The hard-throwing right-hander from Paintsville, Ky. started the season in the bullpen, going 5-0 with a 2.02 ERA and two saves during the first two months of the season. Midway through the conference schedule, however, he was moved to the weekend rotation and was even more dominant, compiling a record of 4-0 and an ERA of 0.90 over his final four starts to lead EKU to a share of its first OVC regular season title since 2000.

Fyffe’s finest moment of the season came when he tossed a three-hit complete game shutout against conference foe Tennessee Tech on Senior Day at Turkey Hughes Field. It was EKU’s first nine-inning complete game shutout since Christian Friedrich’s no-hitter against Morehead State in 2006, and it earned Fyffe OVC Pitcher of the Week honors.

Fyffe is the first Colonel to be named OVC Pitcher of the Year since Friedrich in 2008. Friedrich went on to be a first round draft pick of the Colorado Rockies.

In just his fourth year as the head coach at his alma mater, Stein led EKU to seven straight conference wins down the stretch to capture a share of the OVC regular season championship, the program’s 16th all-time title (an OVC record) and first since 2000. Picked sixth in the OVC preseason poll, the Colonels got off to a slow start as the team was just 7-15 after a loss to Jacksonville State on March 24. Behind Stein’s steady guidance, however, EKU won 24 of its final 30 games and 10 of its final 11 OVC games, finishing 19-7 in league play and claiming a share of the regular season crown with Austin Peay. EKU finished the regular season with a record of 31-21, marking the second 30-win season during Stein’s four years in Richmond.

Under Stein, the Colonels led the nation in home runs per game (1.25) this season and led the OVC in slugging percentage (.482), doubles (12), triples (21), home runs (65) and total bases (902). During the year, Stein, a former Colonel middle infielder and an assistant coach on the last EKU team to win an OVC championship in 2000, reached the 100-win plateau during a victory over Morehead State on April 28.

Overall, Stein is the third different EKU skipper to be named the OVC Coach of the Year and first since Stein’s college coach Jim Ward won the final of his five awards in 2000. Charles “Turkey” Hughes, the namesake of the Colonels’ baseball field, is the other EKU coach to win the award, doing so in 1962 and 1967.

Senior outfielder Jacob Daniel joined Southeast Missouri’s two-time OVC Player of the Year Trenton Moses as the only repeat first-team All-OVC selections from last year. Daniel started 51 games in left field for the Colonels, batting .307 with six home runs, 14 doubles and an OVC-best seven triples. He also led EKU and ranked seventh in the OVC with 48 RBI. Daniel, a native of Russellville, Ala., broke EKU’s career hit-by-pitch record this season (42), and he enters the postseason with 17 career triples, one shy of tying the OVC career record (held by former Colonel Jayson Langfels).

For the first time in his decorated career, senior shortstop Richie Rodriguez joined Fyffe and Daniel as a first team All-OVC selection. Rodriguez, a two-time second team All-OVC performer, has started 214 consecutive games at shortstop, meaning every game of his EKU career. The native of Miami, Fla. is the engine of EKU’s prolific offense, leading the Colonels in almost every major offensive category, including batting average (.379), hits (77), runs (58), doubles (18), total bases (140), slugging percentage (.690) and on-base percentage (.472). He ranks in the top-20 in the country in runs, slugging percentage, total bases and strikeouts per nine innings. Rodriguez, who was one of 25 players named to the prestigious Brooks Wallace Shortstop of the Year Award Watch List this week, currently owns the all-time EKU hits (300), runs (208) and at-bats (856) records.

Senior second baseman Dustin Dunlop and junior left-hander Shane Grimm were named second team All-OVC. Dunlop, a native of Conyers, Ga., started 45 games at second base and was third on the team with a .312 batting average. He also scored 36 runs to go along with three home runs, four triples, 11 doubles, 21 walks and nine stolen bases. Dunlop also played brilliant defense for EKU all season, as he was part of a Colonel middle infield that ranks fourth in the country with 1.13 double plays turned per game. Grimm, a native of Paintsville, Ky., finished the season with a 6-4 record, two complete games and a 3.14 ERA, good enough for fourth-best in the conference. More importantly, however, Grimm compiled a perfect record of 5-0 and an ERA of 2.38 during conference play, including going eight superb innings in the Colonels’ title-clinching win over Murray State last Saturday.

The No. 2 seed EKU opens play in the OVC Tournament on Thursday at 4:00 p.m. The Colonels’ opponent in that game will be determined on Wednesday.

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