Defending Ohio Valley Conference baseball champion Southeast Missouri State University is expected to defend its title in 2003, according to a vote of the league's coaches.
The Indians, also picked as the league's preseason champion by national publications Baseball America and Collegiate Baseball, received five first-place votes in the conference poll released Friday.
Austin Peay received one first-place vote and was chosen along with Eastern Illinois to finish second while Tennessee Tech claimed the remaining two first-place votes and was selected fourth. Rounding out the poll are Eastern Kentucky, Morehead State, Murray State and Tennessee-Martin.
Southeast is coming off a banner season in which 2002 OVC Coach of the Year Mark Hogan directed the Indians to a 37-20 record, their first OVC regular-season championship and their second OVC tournament title. The Indians set a school record for victories and won their first NCAA Division I tournament game by upsetting Alabama.
The bulk of the Indians' offense returns, including first team all-OVC senior third baseman Denver Stuckey (.349, 37 RBIs), second team all-OVC senior shortstop Zach Borowiak (.324, 35 RBIs) and second team all-OVC senior catcher Tristen McDonald (.353, 52 RBIs).
Southeast's pitching corps took a hit with the loss of two all-conference players -- Pitcher of the Year Brad Purcell and Brandon Smith -- but second team all-OVC senior lefthander Tim Alvarez (5-1, 2.95 ERA) returns after emerging as one of the league's top hurlers in 2002. A host of junior-college transfers are expected to bolster the pitching staff.
Austin Peay welcomes back four starters from last year's 30-27 squad that finished third in the OVC. Heading the Govs' list of veteran offensive stars is first team all-OVC catcher A.J. Ellis (.371, 44 RBIs).
Eastern Illinois (25-26), second in the OVC last year, welcomes back five starters, including first team all-OVC designated hitter Bret Pignatiello (.321, 37 RBIs).
Southeast opens the season Feb. 7 at Oklahoma.