Redhawks try to rack up more wins this weekend

Saturday, April 8, 2006

The Redhawks take a 21-10 record into a series with TSU, which is ninth in the OVC.

The resurgent Southeast Missouri State softball team hopes to build on its impressive start this weekend when it hosts Tennessee State in an Ohio Valley Conference series.

There will be a 1 p.m. doubleheader today and a 1 p.m. game Sunday.

Southeast is 21-10 overall and 8-1 in OVC play, which puts them second in the 10-team league. Tennessee State is 14-20 and a ninth-place 1-9 in the conference.

The Redhawks, who have won 17 of their last 20 games, appear headed for their first winning overall record since the 2000 squad went 31-24.

"I feel like we've been playing wel, and hopefully we can keep it up," said 24th-year coach Lana Richmond, who has led Southeast to five OVC titles, but none since 1999.

Richmond, one of the nation's winningest active coaches, believed the Redhawks would make a move up this year after last season's young squad finished 27-28.

She thought the offense would be there, and it has. The still-young Redhawks lead the OVC with a .304 batting average, and are tied for first with 36 home runs.

Seven players are hitting at least .295, led by sophomore Megan McDonald (.374), a Central High School graduate who was last season's OVC freshman of the year.

Sophomore Michelle Summers (.372) is close behind, followed by freshman Lauren Bradley (.362), senior Stephanie Huffman (.356), junior Lindsay Pickering (.329), freshman Amber Peterson (.303) and freshman Jenn Monaghan (.296).

Summers, like McDonald a first-team all-OVC pick last year, is tied for the league home-run lead with nine, after pacing the Redhawks as a freshman last year with 10. She has 19 career homers, one shy of the school record. She is two away from the single-season mark of 11.

McDonald and Monaghan both have five homers, while Bradley, Huffman, Pickering and junior Stephanie Mata all have four. Summers leads in RBIs with 26. Huffman has 10 doubles and 22 RBIs.

"Our hitting has been very good," Richmond said. "McDonald and Summers picked up where they left off last year, and our freshmen have really played well."

But perhaps the key, said Richmond, has been Huffman, who struggled last year offensively after transferring from junior college. She hit just .194 and also was not a major factor on the mound.

In addition to her offensive numbers, Huffman has pitched her way to an 11-3 record and a 3.69 ERA as a nice compliment to sophomore ace Elaine Fisher (9-7, 1.61).

"Everything hinges around our pitching and Stephanie Huffman has had quite a turnaround," Richmond said. "She has stepped up on the mound, and offensively she has had quite a season.

"When the season started out, we felt like she was a key for us. We knew Fisher had done a good job as a freshman, but it was Huffman who had to step up and take up the other end of the doubleheader. She has done that.

"They have both pitched very well," she added. "They have been given some runs to work with, and I feel like our defense is solid."

Richmond knows the jury is still out on the Redhawks' chances of contending for the OVC title, since they have not yet faced any of the league's upper-level teams.

"Late in the year, when we play the top teams, will really tell a lot about where we stand in the conference," she said.

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