'Hawks make themselves at home

Monday, January 16, 2006

Southeast will play 32 of its 56 games this season at Capaha Field.

When Southeast Missouri State begins baseball practice Tuesday, the Redhawks for a change won't be preparing for a schedule dotted with traditional national powers.

Still, coach Mark Hogan figures his team will be properly challenged by a slate featuring 29 nonconference games in addition to the usual 27 Ohio Valley Conference contests.

"I really like our schedule," said Hogan, whose squad opens Feb. 15 at Arkansas State and sees its first home action with a Feb. 25 doubleheader against Jackson State.

In years past, Southeast's nonconference schedule featured quite a few early games against nationally ranked opponents, primarily from the south.

But all those contests were invariably away from home, and Hogan said he simply got tired of never having those teams return any of the games to Capaha Field, which always left his schedule road-heavy.

"Some of it is frustration on my part, not getting any of those teams to come to Cape," Hogan said. "I expressed those feelings to different coaches, and they said there's nothing they can do.

"For five years, with no light at the end of the tunnel ... and it just kills your home schedule."

Added Hogan: "It's not a chopped liver schedule. We're playing solid clubs, but not the traditional top-10 type teams. Not to say we won't do that again, but we're not going to go to those places for 15 years without them coming here."

The Redhawks will continue to play Missouri home and away annually. The Tigers are ranked 10th in the preseason to represent Southeast's only nationally ranked opponent on this year's schedule.

In an unusual twist, Southeast actually will face the Tigers three times this season, with one meeting coming in the Best of the Midwest Tournament in Kansas City, Kan., in late April. The Redhawks will also play Kansas in that event.

"We didn't really plan on playing Missouri three times. When we agreed to that tournament, we were originally supposed to play Kansas and Kansas State," Hogan said. "But we don't mind playing Missouri three times. They've got a great team, and we've really had a good rivalry with them over the years."

Hogan is particularly pleased that Southeast's 56-game schedule will feature 32 home contests. Five of the Redhawks' nine OVC series -- for a total of 15 games -- will be at Capaha Field this year.

"We're ecstatic about the home schedule," Hogan said. "We've played so many road games the last few years, to play in front of our home fans that many times will be really nice. And we've been so good at home over the years.

"We've got nine home weekends this year, and I don't remember the last time we've had that many."

As for what to expect on the field, Hogan said he is optimistic despite the fact Southeast lost its top four hitters from last year's squad that went 24-32 overall and 15-11 in the OVC. It was the Redhawks' first losing season since 1997, and only their third losing mark under Hogan, entering his 12th season.

Southeast returns two of its top three pitchers in seniors Jamie McAlister and Derek Herbig, and also welcomes back Anthony Maupin, one of the Redhawks' top hurlers two years ago who missed last season with an injury.

"We've got experience on the mound, and we're really young around the field," Hogan said. "We've got three fifth-year seniors on the mound and I can't ever remember having that. If I could have experience in one of the two spots, I'd have it on the mound.

"Around the field, we had some guys really look good in the fall. I'm excited. Several freshmen might start, which means it's really promising for the future."

Hogan endorses changes

The Division I Board of Directors recently approved measures setting uniform start dates to the playing and practice season.

Under the measures, which become effective for the 2008 season, Feb. 1 is the first date practice can begin, and games cannot begin until the first Friday in February that is 13 weeks before the Sunday immediately before Memorial Day, which generally amounts to late February.

The measures are designed to help level the playing field for baseball programs in cold-weather states, who invariably begin practice and start playing games much later than programs in warm-weather states.

"I voted for it 100 percent," Hogan said. "There are teams getting ready to start playing games next week. This will create more uniformity."

Still to be decided is a proposal to cut the maximum number of games from 56 to 52.

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