Indians seek one last shot of momentum vs. Murray St.

Friday, May 16, 2003

Southeast Missouri State University has been eliminated from repeating its Ohio Valley Conference regular-season baseball championship, but coach Mark Hogan insists the Indians still have plenty to play for this weekend.

The Indians (27-18, 11-6 OVC) close out the regular season with a three-game series at Murray State (20-25, 9-8). There will be a 1 p.m. doubleheader today and a 2 p.m. contest Saturday.

With the OVC Tournament set for May 21-24 in Paducah, Ky. -- the winner earns the league's automatic NCAA regional berth -- Hogan said, "It's important we play well this weekend and set the tone for the tournament. We also want to get some pitchers some work."

Southeast, which won last year's OVC Tournament, is in third place in the conference. Tennessee Tech (12-4) and Austin Peay (12-4-1) will decide the regular-season title this weekend when the squads square off on Tech's field in Cookeville, Tenn.

The Indians have won six of their last seven OVC games, but the top two teams have been even better down the stretch. Tech has won five straight OVC contests and eight of nine. Peay has won six consecutive league games.

"It's disappointing for all of us, the staff and the players, that we can't defend our regular-season title. We made a great run, but we just weren't able to pull it off," Hogan said. "You've just got to hand it to those two teams for the way they've played, and that should be a heck of a series to decide the title.

"But, if you asked me if we'd rather win the regular season or the tournament, you'd take the tournament any time. That's how you get to the regional and that's what every team shoots for. It should be an excellent OVC Tournament with so many teams close, but I feel good about our chances."

Southeast can finish second in the eight-team OVC, which -- barring any rainouts in the Tech-Peay series -- would happen if the Indians sweep Murray State. If the Indians win two of three or drop two of three, they'll likely wind up third.

Barring any rainouts in Murray, Ky., this weekend, the fourth-place Thoroughbreds can pass the Indians and finish in third place only if they win all three games.

If Southeast and Murray State do wind up third and fourth in the OVC -- in either order -- then the teams would square off May 21 in the first round of the six-team conference tournament.

"There's a very good chance we'll see them again right away in the tournament," Hogan said.

Hogan expects a formidable challenge from the Thoroughbreds, who lead the OVC in earned-run average (4.88) and feature two of the league's top five individual ERA leaders.

Right-hander Craig Kraus has only a 2-5 record but he has a 3.35 ERA to rank fourth in the conference. Left-hander Craig Ringwald (4-3, 3.69), a Central High School product, is fifth in the league in ERA. Right-hander Kyle Perry (6-3, 5.29) rounds out the Thoroughbreds' normal rotation. Greg Gray has seven saves to rank second in the OVC.

The Thoroughbreds rank next-to-last in the OVC in batting with a .278 average, but they have several dangerous hitters, including Goeff Kirksey (.352) and Brett McCutchan (.321). Matt Rebout leads in home runs with nine.

"They have excellent pitching and some guys who swing the bat well," Hogan said.

Hogan plans to start left-handers Jon Nourie (2-3, 6.02) and Tim Alvarez (12-3, 3.08) today, with left-hander Stan Skakalski (3-0, 5.45) going Saturday. Alvarez, second in the OVC in ERA, is tied for Southeast's single-season victory record.

"Nourie has looked good his last couple of times out and I'm anxious to see him," Hogan said.

Right-hander Bill Clayton (4-2, 6.14), normally a member of Southeast's regular rotation and winner of four straight, won't start this weekend because he'll work Southeast's opening OVC Tournament game that will likely be against Murray State.

Offensively, the Indians are hitting .320 to rank second in the league. Leading the way are Brian Hopkins (.424), Zach Borowiak (.377) and Justin Christian (.369), who rank third, sixth and eighth in the OVC. Hopkins leads the conference in home runs with 18 and needs three more homers to tie the school single-season record.

mmishow@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 132

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