Indians eye another big year

Monday, February 17, 2003

The way Southeast Missouri State University's baseball Indians see it, why can't they reach the NCAA Tournament for the second straight season?

"That's our goal, and we think we can do it again," senior shortstop Zach Borowiak said. "I feel we could be much better than we were last year."

Added senior third baseman Denver Stuckey, "We're looking to build on last year. We don't want to just win a regional game, we want to get higher than that. We feel like we can play with anybody."

Southeast coach Mark Hogan, who led the Indians to their best Division I season last year, doesn't mind that talk one bit. In fact, he feels pretty much the same way.

"I'm not going to apologize for feeling our club can be really good again," Hogan said. "But you have to go out and see what happens. So much goes into the type of season we had last year."

The Indians, who went 37-20 last year, won their first Ohio Valley Conference regular-season championship, captured their second OVC Tournament title and posted their first NCAA Regional victory, open the new season Friday at Alabama after having a three-game series at Oklahoma Feb. 7-9 wiped out by bad weather, although the teams will try to re-schedule the series later in the year.

Southeast's first home game will be Feb. 28 against Memphis.

Offensive weapons return

Southeast graduated a pair of key offensive players in leading hitter Vern Hatton, a first-team all-OVC selection in center field, and four-year standout second baseman Clemente Bonilla, the 2002 OVC Tournament MVP.

But the Indians return six position regulars, including five of their top seven hitters, which is a major reason they have been tabbed as the OVC favorite.

Back from last season are senior catcher Tristen McDonald (.353, 10 HR, 14 2B, 52 RBIs), Stuckey (.349, 5 HR, 17 2B, 37 RBIs, 18 SB), Borowiak (.324, 4 HR, 17 2B, 3 3B, 35 RBIs), senior left fielder Brian Hopkins (.317, 7 HR, 12 2B, 34 RBIs, 12 SB), senior designated hitter David Lawson (.299, 1 HR, 26 RBIs) and sophomore first baseman Eric Hoffman (.235, 4 HR, 10 2B, 34 RBIs).

Stuckey made the all-OVC first team last year, McDonald and Borowiak were on the second team and Hopkins received honorable mention.

"Those are some good players to build around," Hogan said.

Joining those six in the starting lineup to begin the season will be three newcomers: senior Justin Christian at second base, junior Gary Gilbert at first base and junior Seth Moulton in center field. Lawson will open in right field and Hoffman will DH.

Christian is a transfer from Auburn, where he started and hit .259 last year. Gilbert and the speedy Moulton are both junior-college transfers, with Moulton hitting .401 at Iowa Western last year.

"They have fit in well and should really help us," Hogan said.

Other newcomers expected to contribute around the field are juco transfer Wade Hansford, who can play the infield or outfield, and freshman outfielder Aaron Fangman.

Hogan also looks for sophomore catcher Scott Reinagel, a former Notre Dame High School star who had just two at-bats last year, to receive more playing time as he backs up McDonald.

New pitchers abound

On paper, the pitching staff is a major question mark, but it has been in years past under Hogan -- and the Indians always seem to thrive on the mound.

"(Pitching coach) Jeremy Tyson does a great job with those guys," Hogan said.

The Indians graduated OVC Pitcher of the Year Brad Purcell and second-team all-league pick Brandon Smith, who both won 12 games last year to tie the school record.

Only two hurlers who saw considerable action last season return.

Senior left-hander Tim Alvarez (5-1, 3 saves, 2.95 ERA) made the all-OVC second team and senior right-hander Donnie Fuller (3-2, 4.56) was one of the Indians' most reliable hurlers down the stretch.

"Fuller really came on and Alvarez is so valuable. He's kind of a wild card for us because he can fill so many roles," Hogan said.

The only other returning pitcher is senior right-hander James Beever, who threw just 17 2/3 innings last year but showed promise and has improved considerably, said Hogan.

Hogan has high hopes for quite a few mound newcomers, including juco left-handers John Nourie, Stan Skakalski and Kory Klein; juco right-handers Ryan Forsyth and Brad Smith; Southern Illinois transfer Bill Clayton, a right-hander; and touted freshman right-hander Brad Bumpus from the St. Louis area.

"We feel like Nourie has a chance to be a dominant guy, Skakalski is similar to Nourie in that he's a power-type guy and Clayton has a big-time arm," Hogan said.

Fuller is scheduled to start the opener at Alabama, followed by Nourie and Beever to close out the series, although plenty of pitchers will throw this weekend and the rotation will likely change as the season develops.

"We lost some great pitchers and inexperience early could hurt us," Hogan said. "But I feel good about our arms, and I think we'll be deeper than last year, although it's tough to replace 24 wins at the top."

Noteworthy

Mark Wittenborn, a freshman left-handed pitcher from Central High School, walked on to the squad and will likely redshirt, but Hogan said he likes Wittenborn's potential.

Freshman infielder Joey Pilcher, from Harrisburg, Ill., is the brother of Southeast track and cross country standout Kaci Pilcher.

Nathan Baker, who signed with the Indians last year after a standout career at Kennett High School, instead decided to attend John A. Logan (Ill.) Junior College.

"He wanted to pitch right away but we wanted to redshirt him," Hogan said.

INDIANS AT A GLANCECOACHES

Mark Hogan, 248-185-1 in eight seasons at Southeast. Assistants are Jeremy Tyson (fourth year), Scott Southard (fourth year) and Conan Horton (first year).2002 RECORD

37-20, 16-5 OVC (first place). Won OVC Tournament and went 1-2 in NCAA Regional.2002 HONORS:

Hogan (OVC Coach of the Year); Brad Purcell (OVC Pitcher of the Year, first-team all-OVC); Vern Hatton (first-team all-OVC); Denver Stuckey (first-team all-OVC); Tim Alvarez (second-team all-OVC); Clemente Bonilla (second-team all-OVC); Zach Borowiak (second-team all-OVC); Tristen McDonald (second-team all-OVC); Brandon Smith (second-team all-OVC).RETURNING STARTERS

Sr. C Tristen McDonald (.353, 43 R, 14 2B, 10 HR, 52 RBIs); Sr. 3B Denver Stuckey (.349, 51 R, 17 2B, 1 3B, 5 HR, 37 RBIs, 18 SB); Sr. SS Zach Borowiak (.324, 40 R, 17 2B, 3 3B, 4 HR, 35 RBIs); Sr. LF Brian Hopkins (.317, 48 R, 12 2B, 2 3B, 7 HR, 34 RBIs, 12 SB); Sr. DH David Lawson (.299, 22 R, 7 2B, 2 3B, 1 HR, 26 RBIs); So. 1B Eric Hoffman (.235, 26 R, 10 2B, 4 HR, 34 RBIs); Sr. LHP Tim Alvarez (5-1, 3 S, 2.95 ERA); Sr. RHP Donnie Fuller (3-2, 4.56 ERA).OTHERS RETURNING

Sr. RHP James Beever (0-0, 1 S, 5.09 ERA); So. C Scott Reinagel (.000 in two at-bats).NEWCOMERS

Fr. RHP Brad Bumpus; Jr. RHP Bill Clayton; Sr. IF Justin Christian; Jr. C Ryan Dinkelman; Fr. OF Aaron Fangman; So. RHP Ryan Forsyth; Jr. IF-OF Gary Gilbert; Jr. IF-OF Wade Hansford; Jr. LHP Korey Klein; Jr. OF Seth Moulton; So. LHP John Nourie; Fr. IF Joey Pilcher; Fr. LHP Ryan Sehnert; Jr. LHP Stan Skakalski; Jr. RHP Brad Smith; Fr. IF Jason Theodorakas; Fr. LHP Mark Wittenborn. PROJECTED OPENING DAY LINEUP

1. Christian, 2B; 2. Gilbert, 1B; 3. Stuckey, 3B; 4. McDonald, C; 5. Borowiak, SS; 6. Hopkins, LF; 7. Lawson, RF; 8. Hoffman, DH; 9. Moulton, CF.PROJECTED OPENING SERIES PITCHING ROTATION

Fuller, Nourie, Beever.LOCAL LINE:

Reinagel (Notre Dame HS); Stuckey (Kelly HS); Wittenborn (Central HS).

-- Marty Mishow

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