Until their offense comes around, the Southeast Missouri State Redhawks will have to win games by continuing to receive strong pitching and solid defense.
That combination was good enough to spark a doubleheader sweep of visiting Murray State on Saturday afternoon.
The Redhawks posted rare back-to-back shutouts, 1-0 in the nine-inning opener and 5-0 in the seven-inning nightcap, as they pushed their winning streak to three games.
Southeast, which had lost seven straight before the winning streak, improved to 9-14 overall and 2-3 in OVC play. The Thoroughbreds fell to 7-20 and 0-5.
"It's like squeezing blood," said Southeast coach Mark Hogan of the Redhawks' narrow margin for error these days. "You can't ask for better pitching and defense. And we're scratching out just enough runs."
The Redhawks, who have scored only 16 runs in their last nine games, had just nine hits Saturday, and three of their six runs were unearned. They saw their OVC-worst batting average fall to .214.
But Hogan wasn't about to complain. The Redhawks are now winning the kind of games -- including Wednesday's 3-2 victory over nationally ranked Missouri -- they had been losing recently, including three one-run defeats to open OVC play at Tennessee-Martin last weekend.
"We're doing the only thing we can do right now with no offense. We're winning with pitching and defense, which is fine," said Hogan, whose squad has allowed nine runs in its past six games, while committing just one error in its past four games. "Hopefully we'll eventually be able to get the offense going."
Jamie McAlister and Anthony Maupin, part of Southeast's three-headed senior starting rotation for conference play, shut down the Thoroughbreds, with a major assist from reliever Josh Parham.
McAlister (4-4) allowed six hits in 8 1/3 innings of the opener, with six strikeouts and no walks, as he notched his second straight win. McAlister also earned the victory against Missouri in relief.
"Everything felt great. All my pitches were working," McAlister said.
McAlister was on the verge of recording his first career shutout, but after allowing a leadoff single in the ninth to Chaz Ebert, who moved to second on a sacrifice, Hogan decided to bring in the left-handed Parham to face dangerous left-handed hitter Tyler Pittman.
Parham, a junior from Jackson High School who has been one of the OVC's better relievers this year, struck out Pittman and got Jason Payton on a ground ball to first. It was Parham's first career save.
"It would have been nice to finish, but any time Parham comes in, you know the job will get done," McAlister said.
Murray State starter Kalen Gibson was just as tough as McAlister, allowing four hits in eight innings with seven strikeouts and one walk. Levi Olson had two of Southeast's hits, including a double.
But the Thoroughbreds' defense faltered in the sixth, as the Redhawks scored an unearned run that proved decisive.
Freshman Andrew Graham, who had been out since Feb. 26 with a stress fracture, led off with a single. Asif Shah attempted to sacrifice Graham to second, and both runners reached when Payton, the Thoroughbreds' catcher, threw high to second for an error.
Robby Moore sacrificed the runners to second and third, and Moore also was safe when Gibson booted the bunt for an error to load the bases with nobody out. Omar Padilla followed with a sacrifice fly that scored Graham.
Maupin (2-3) picked up his first career shutout in the nightcap, as he scattered six hits over seven innings, with five strikeouts and two walks.
"I felt pretty good," said Maupin, who helped himself by beginning a nifty double play in the fifth that helped him escape a bases-loaded, no-out jam. "I had good control of my offspeed stuff, and my fastball got better as the game went along."
The Redhawks had five hits in this game, but made them count while taking advantage of two more Murray State errors that led to a pair of unearned runs.
Southeast scored an unearned run in the first inning, then made it 3-0 in the third on Padilla's two-run home run after a Redhawk reached on an error.
It was the team-leading second homer of the season for Padilla, a junior college transfer who had been in an 0-for-19 slump before getting a double in the opener. Southeast has only six home runs all season.
"It was good to see Padilla come through after he'd been struggling," Hogan said. "He had the big sacrifice fly in the first game, and his home run gave us a little breathing room."
Two-out RBI singles in the sixth by Phillip Riley and Dustin Pritchett made it 5-0 and allowed Maupin to close things out with ease.
"McAlister and Maupin were tremendous, and Parham came through in a really key spot," Hogan said. "Our pitching was great, and so was Murray State's pitching."
Murray State junior second baseman Seth Hudson, a Central High School graduate, had a hit in each game. He entered the day sixth in the OVC in batting at .366 and first in hits with 34.
The Redhawks will go for the sweep in today's 1 p.m. series finale. Senior left-hander Derek Herbig will be on the mound for Southeast.
"Hopefully Herbig will give us another great start, like we got today," Hogan said.