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May 25, 2010

Henry, Bragga earn top honors; Five Golden Eagles named on all-OVC teams

Henry, Kirby-Jones repeat as all-OVC selections

JACKSON, Tenn. -- Tennessee Tech senior Lee Henry is the 2010 Ohio Valley Conference Pitcher of the Year and skipper Matt Bragga is the league's Coach of the Year, two of the top honors announced Tuesday night at the annual OVC Awards Banquet held on the eve of the 2010 OVC Baseball Championship.

Henry was also one of five Golden Eagles players included on the all-OVC teams. He was a first-team selection along with designated hitter A.J. Kirby-Jones and outfielder/pitcher Chad Oberacker. Tristan Archer and Austin Wulf were named to the OVC All-Freshman team.

Murray State senior first baseman Wes Cunningham was named OVC Player of the Year and Southeast Missouri pitcher Shae Simmons was tabbed Rookie of the Year.

The awards are voted on by league head coaches and sports information directors. Regular season champion Tennessee Tech and Southeast Missouri State each had three players selected
to the first-team. Jacksonville State and Morehead State (two apiece) were the only other programs with multiple first-team selections.

In helping Tennessee Tech to its seventh OVC regular season championship, Henry was dominant on the mound, leading the OVC in ERA (2.77, 0.59 points better than second place), opponent batting average (.220) and shutouts (1), while ranking second in strikeouts per nine innings (9.61) and complete games (3). In 14 total appearances (11 starts), Henry compiled a 6-3 record
and struck out 73 batters while only issuing 33 walks. His best game of the season came against Eastern Illinois, when he tossed a three-hit, seven-inning shutout. In that game he struck out nine and was named OVC Pitcher of the Week for his performance.

Over his last five games of the regular season, Henry was 5-0 with a 2.47 E.R.A. with each of those games coming against OVC foes. During that stretch of 32.2 innings, he allowed nine earned runs and struck out 36 batters. Henry is the second Tech pitcher to be named OVC Pitcher of the Year since the award was first handed out in 1992 (Mark Maberry in 1997 was the other).

Now in his seventh season at Tennessee Tech, Bragga becomes just the second Tennessee Tech skipper to be named OVC Coach of the Year. He joins legendary coach David Mays who took home the honor five times during his career, with the last honor coming in 1997 (Mays will fittingly be inducted into the OVC Hall of Fame this June).

Bragga broke through with the Golden Eagles last season, taking the fifth-seeded team to an OVC Tournament championship and a berth in the NCAA Regionals (where they eliminated nationally-ranked Alabama).

Picked third in this year's preseason OVC poll, Tech got off to a slow start in Conference play, losing its first five games and finding itself at the bottom of the league standings. But a come-from-behind victory in the series finale at Southeast Missouri proved to be the turning point of the season. The Golden Eagles scored eight runs in the eighth inning of that game to turn a 7-3 deficit into an eventual 12-8 victory.

Following that game Tennessee Tech reeled off 11-straight OVC victories before suffering a three-run loss to UT Martin in that series finale on May 16 (in that game UTM scored three runs in the eighth inning to win the game). But with the OVC title on the line the final weekend of the season, Tech rebounded by sweeping then first-place Murray State to claim the 2010 OVC Championship and No. 1 seed for the OVC Tournament.

It marked the seventh regular season title for the Golden Eagles and first since 1997 (when they were co-champions). It was the first outright, nondivisional title for the program since 1956. Overall Tennessee Tech won 14 of its final 15 OVC games during the season. With one more victory this season the program will record its third-straight 30-win season, something that has never happened in program history.

Cunningham is rewriting the Murray State record books, setting new single-season marks for hits, triples, home runs, RBIs, total bases and slugging percentage. He was recently named (along with Tech's Kirby-Jones) one of 25 semifinalists for the prestigious Dick Howser Trophy, honoring the top player in college baseball.

No rookie made a bigger impact in the OVC in 2010 than Simmons did for Southeast Missouri. In his first year in the league, Simmons took over closer duties for the only OVC squad to win 30 games during the regular season. He led the team with five saves, the fourth-highest total in the league. Overall he appeared in a team-high 24 games, registering a 2.39 earned run average, a 3-2 record and 41 strikeouts in 37.2 innings of work.

Oberacker (above left) led the OVC and ranked in the top five nationally in batting average (.455) while registering 101 hits, 28 doubles (which also ranked in the top five nationally), 65 RBI and 14 stolen bases. Kirby-Jones (above right) appeared on the All-OVC first-team for the first time in his career (after being an All-Freshman selection two years ago and a second-team pick last season). Kirby-Jones smashed 24 home runs during the season (which ranked in the top five nationally) while also drawing 55 walks (a mark that was second nationally). "AJKJ" hit .378 with 71 hits, 58 runs, 16 doubles and 66 RBI.

  Tech's starter in left field, Wulf (left) takes a seven-game hitting streak to the OVC Tournament in which he is hitting .459 (17-for-37), with multi-hit efforts in all seven contests. He has also driven in 15 runs during that stretch, with at least one RBI in every game. Those numbers have helped Wulf bump his batting average 44 points since May 11, going from .297 to .341.

Archer (right) ranks second on the team in starts with 11 in his rookie season.  He is 3-1 with a 7.47 ERA. He notched wins over Cleveland State, Buffalo and Austin Peay, and recorded a career-high six strikeouts against Jacksonville State.

The No. 1 seed at the OVC Tournament, the Golden Eagles have a first-round bye. Tech will open tourney action Thursday at 7 p.m. against an opponent to be determined by fist round outcomes.

2010 Ohio Valley Conference Honors

Player of the Year:
Wes Cunningham, Murray State
Pitcher of the Year: Lee Henry, Tennessee Tech
Freshman of the Year: Shae Simmons, Southeast Missouri
Coach of the Year: Matt Bragga, Tennessee Tech

All-OVC First Team
C - Jim Klocke, Southeast Missouri
1B - Wes Cunningham, Murray State
2B - Bert Smith, Jacksonville State
SS - Drew Lee, Morehead State
3B - Jayson Langfels, Eastern Kentucky
OF - Chad Oberacker, Tennessee Tech
OF - J.D. Ashbrook, Morehead State
OF - Todd Cunningham, Jacksonville State
DH - A.J. Kirby-Jones, Tennessee Tech
UT - Casey Jones, Southeast Missouri
SP - Lee Henry, Tennessee Tech
SP - Mike Recchia, Eastern Illinois
RP - Shae Simmons, Southeast Missouri

All-OVC Second Team
C - Ty Nelson, UT Martin
1B - Anthony Ottrando, Eastern Kentucky
2B - Jon Clinard, Austin Peay
SS - Kenton Parmley, Southeast Missouri
3B - Trey Karlen, UT Martin
OF - Louie Haseltine, Southeast Missouri
OF - Michael Adamson, Southeast Missouri
OF - Jordan Owen, UT Martin
OF - Daniel Adamson, Jacksonville State
DH - Alex Gee, Eastern Illinois
UT - Michael Bottoms, Morehead State
SP - Chris Craycraft, Murray State
SP - Coty Green, UT Martin
SP - Kyle Gumieny, Southeast Missouri
RP - Matt McGaha, Murray State

OVC All-Freshman Team
John Hogan (1B), Austin Peay
Cody Hudson (OF), Austin Peay
Daniel Rowe (OF), Eastern Illinois
Anthony Bazzani (RHP), Eastern Kentucky
Austin Grisham (OF), Eastern Kentucky
Hunter Rivers (RHP), Jacksonville State
Brandon Elliott (SS), Murray State
Colton Moore (3B/DH), Murray State
Shae Simmons (RHP), Southeast Missouri
Tristan Archer (RHP), Tennessee Tech
Austin Wulf (OF), Tennessee Tech
Dan Tobik (RHP), UT Martin
Brent Morris (OF), UT Martin