Indians pay visit to OVC leader
Saturday, April 26, 2003
Southeast tries to keep its title hopes alive in three-game series at Austin Peay.
By Marty Mishow ~ Southeast Missourian
Southeast Missouri State University baseball coach Mark Hogan doesn't hesitate to call this weekend's three-game Ohio Valley Conference series at Austin Peay his team's most important of the season to date.
"It's the biggest series so far without a doubt," Hogan said.
The Governors (16-21-1, 5-2-1) and Indians (20-13, 4-4) will square off in a 2 p.m. doubleheader today and a 2 p.m. single game Sunday in Clarksville, Tenn.
Austin Peay is in first place while defending champion Southeast is in fifth place in the scrambled OVC standings. Between the Govs and Indians are a trio of teams -- Eastern Kentucky, Tennessee Tech and Murray State -- who are all 5-3. And also still very much in the hunt are Eastern Illinois (4-5) and Morehead State (3-6).
"It's already been a crazy race and I look for it to continue until the end of the season," Hogan said. "No matter what happens this weekend, neither team will be mathematically eliminated.
"But this is probably the weekend that will define whether we're going to be a contender for the title or just trying to make the conference tournament. We've got to have a good weekend and it just happens to be on the road against the first-place team."
The Govs have struggled offensively as they are last in the conference with a .264 batting average and have also hit a league-low 18 home runs. But their pitching staff ranks second with a 4.94 earned-run average and they lead the way with a .960 fielding percentage.
"They still have some respectable hitters, maybe they just haven't clicked yet," Hogan said. "But their pitching staff is very good and they have one of the best pitchers in the league."
Hard-throwing right-hander Dustin Smith (3-3) has the OVC's fourth-best ERA at 2.89. He has allowed 44 hits in 53 innings, with 50 strikeouts and 14 walks.
Smith and Southeast ace left-hander Tim Alvarez (9-2, 2.18) should provide quite a matchup in today's opener. Alvarez leads the OVC in wins and ranks second in ERA. In 74 1/3 innings, he has allowed 59 hits, with 54 strikeouts and 18 walks.
Austin Peay's other projected starters this weekend are right-hander Jake Lund (2-5, 5.20) and left-hander Devin Thomas (5-3, 5.68).
For Southeast, left-hander Jon Nourie (2-2, 6.00) will start today's second game, with right-hander Bill Clayton (1-2, 8.56) going Sunday. Nourie leads the OVC in strikeouts per nine innings with 11.75. He has fanned 47 batters in 36 innings. The Indians have a 5.21 team ERA, putting them fourth in the OVC.
While the Govs have struggled at the plate with just one player ranked among the OVC's top 15 hitters -- Ron Bethke is 13th at .342 -- the Indians have a .310 batting average that ranks third in the league.
Three Southeast players are among the OVC's top 15 hitters, led by No. 3 Brian Hopkins at .392. Justin Christian (.357) and Zach Borowiak (.351) rank 10th and 12th.
Hopkins is tied for second in the league with 10 of the Indians' 38 home runs. Borowiak, who has seven homers, is fourth in the OVC with 38 runs batted in while Christian is second in stolen bases with 11.