Johnson blasts first HR; Redhaws turn back SIU

Thursday, April 6, 2006

Southeast Missouri State had by far its best offensive performance of the season Wednesday during a 13-11 victory over visiting Southern Illinois.

And without a doubt the most unlikely Redhawks slugger was senior Andy Johnson.

Johnson, a former pitcher who before this week had received all of two college at-bats, belted a 400-foot-plus home run to highlight a 16-hit attack, as the Redhawks improved to 11-15 and dropped SIU to 18-14.

"I had no idea it was out," said Johnson of his first career homer -- a two-run, fourth-inning shot over the 400-foot sign in center field. "I actually got jammed on it."

Make no mistake about it, Johnson has been getting his share of healthy cuts since being inserted into the designated hitter role the past two games, including Tuesday's 11-10 loss at St. Louis University.

Johnson, who had been hitless in his previous two at-bats this season prior to Tuesday, singled and doubled in four trips to the plate against the Billikens. Against SIU, Johnson was 2-for-5.

Not bad for a player who said that, prior to this season, he really had not swung a bat since he was a little kid.

"Actually, it's the first time I picked up a bat in about 14 years," Johnson said.

Johnson, a native of Minnesota, said he played hockey and not baseball while growing up, including high school.

But Johnson began throwing the ball around with his older brother, Dan, a first baseman for the Oakland Athletics who was a member of the American League all-rookie team last year; went to a tryout camp; displayed a strong arm and received a scholarship as a pitcher to Triton Junior College in Illinois.

After two years at Triton, the hard-throwing Johnson transferred to Southeast and was an off-and-on starter for the Redhawks last season.

But he developed arm problems and said he was told by doctors to "either have surgery or quit pitching."

He opted for the latter and decided to try his hand at hitting during his final college season.

"It was very frustrating, because I love pitching," Johnson said. "But I wanted to keep playing. I started taking batting practice in January and started to get my timing down."

With Southeast struggling so much at the plate -- the Redhawks entered the week with a .220 batting average -- and Johnson impressing in batting practice, coach Mark Hogan decided to give Johnson a shot at DH.

"It wasn't anything I had in mind until very recently," Hogan said. "Really, it was predicated on our hitting about .200 as a team.

"We decided to give this young man an opportunity. He stood up there pretty good for a young man who hasn't hit."

Added a smiling Johnson: "I got an opportunity and took advantage of it. Hopefully I'll stay in there."

That's a sure bet, at least for now.

"I'll let him keep hacking," Hogan said.

Hit parade

Most of the Redhawks hacked Wednesday as they piled up season-high totals in hits and runs to bounce back from Tuesday's stunning loss. In that game, St. Louis rallied from a 10-5, eighth-inning deficit.

"I was proud of the club, to bounce back and beat a very good SIU club after a crushing defeat in a game we should have won," Hogan said.

Senior catcher Levi Olson continued his recent hot streak by going 3-for-4 with his team-leading seventh double. Olson is batting .340, tops among Southeast regulars.

"Levi is really playing with a lot of confidence," Hogan said.

Junior shortstop Robby Moore, just 3-for-26 on the season entering the game, went 3-for-3 with three runs scored and two RBIs.

"After giving up one we had in our hands [Tuesday], it was nice to come back and get this one," Moore said.

Junior Phillip Riley had two doubles and three RBIs, while freshman Daniel Schuh added two hits.

"We hit the ball really well yesterday and it carried over," Hogan said. "I've felt all year we'd be a pretty decent hitting team."

Southeast has scored 30 runs on 36 hits in its last three games.

"It's been a long dry spell, but hopefully we're coming out of it," Hogan said. "We're showing signs."

Junior left-hander Asif Shah, who threw six shutout innings during last week's 3-2 win over Missouri but did not receive a decision, earned his first collegiate victory.

Shah (1-1) allowed seven hits and seven runs -- just three earned -- in 6 1/3 innings. He struck out four and walked four.

Jamie McAlister, Southeast's fifth and final pitcher, earned his first save of the season with a scoreless ninth inning. SIU had rallied from a 12-6 deficit to make things interesting thanks mainly to some shaky defense by the Redhawks.

Southeast had four errors, which resulted in seven unearned runs for the Salukis.

The Redhawks trailed 4-1 early, but went ahead for good with a five-run third inning.

Despite the win, not all the news was good for Southeast. Second baseman Omar Padilla was hit on his right (throwing) hand by a pitch early in the game. He stayed in for a while but was soon removed.

"It's a bone bruise, and he's day to day," Hogan said. "We've been told it shouldn't be a long-term thing. Hopefully he'll be back soon."

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