Southeast will get challenge from JSU

Saturday, April 8, 2006

The Redhawks and host Gamecocks both have 3-3 records in the conference.

Southeast Missouri State will try to continue climbing up the Ohio Valley Conference baseball standings this weekend by facing the league's defending regular-season champions.

The Redhawks (11-15, 3-3) and Jacksonville State (12-16, 3-3) will square off in a three-game series in Jacksonville, Ala. There will be a 1 p.m. doubleheader today and a 1 p.m. contest Sunday.

Southeast, which has won five of its last six games, is coming off last weekend's three-game OVC sweep of visiting Murray State, in which the Redhawks did not allow a run.

"Our young club has kind of gotten on a roll here lately and it would be nice to continue that," Southeast coach Mark Hogan said. "But Jacksonville State is very good, and it won't be easy."

The Gamecocks won last year's regular-season OVC title and they were predicted to finish second this year based on voting by the league's coaches. The Redhawks were picked fifth in the preseason poll.

"They've got an experienced team, and I know they're smarting after losing two of three against Samford at home last weekend," Hogan said. "I'm sure they're thinking they've got to get two out of three against us.

"We're a little different. We've got a younger team. If we could get two out of three, it would really be a big boost for us."

After struggling offensively all season, the Redhawks have broken loose lately, scoring 30 runs on 36 hits in their last three games.

Southeast still ranks last in the 10-team OVC with a .230 batting average, but that figure was at .217 before the recent outburst.

"We've shown good pitching and defense for stretches, and now the hitting seems to be coming around," Hogan said. "If we can put all three together on a consistent basis, it can really end up being an exciting year for us."

Senior designated hitter Andy Johnson, a converted pitcher, is batting .364, although he has just 11 plate appearances after recently being inserted into the lineup.

Senior catcher Levi Olson has carried a recent hot stretch to a .340 average, with freshman first baseman Aaron Rave (.325) and junior left fielder Dustin Pritchett (.302) also above .300. Rave has a team-high 13 runs batted in.

Southeast's pitching has been strong lately, particularly with its top three starters. The Redhawks have allowed just six runs in six OVC games, and overall they are second in the league with a 4.38 earned-run average.

Starting today will be senior right-handers Jamie McAlister (4-4, 3.54) and Anthony Maupin (2-3, 5.21). Senior left-hander Derek Herbig (2-1, 3.90) will start Sunday.

"I don't think you can pitch much better than those three have been lately," Hogan said.

Jacksonville State's projected starters for the series are sophomore Donovan Hand (2-4, 3.46), junior Jon Clements (1-1, 3.63) and sophomore Matt Darwin (4-1, 4.69). All are right-handers. Hand was last season's OVC freshman of the year.

The Gamecocks are fifth in the conference with a 4.98 ERA, and they also rank fifth with a .279 batting average, led by freshman Bert Smith (.356).

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