'Hawks drop a pair

Monday, May 8, 2006

It was one step forward and two steps back for Southeast Missouri State as a promising start to an Ohio Valley Conference series ended in disappointment.

The Redhawks won the first game of an OVC set for just the second time this season when they pounded Eastern Kentucky Saturday in the opener of a scheduled doubleheader.

After Saturday's nightcap was rained out, the teams played a twinbill Sunday -- which the visiting Colonels swept, 8-3 and 6-5. Both games were seven innings.

So the Redhawks, who have won just one of their seven OVC series so far, are right back where they started when the weekend began.

Southeast, in a three-way tie for seventh place in the 10-team OVC, is again two games out of sixth place after the Redhawks had pulled to within a half-game of that important spot following Saturday's 11-2 romp.

The top six finishers qualify for the conference tournament. The Redhawks (17-28, 8-13) have six league games remaining.

"It was a tough weekend. It didn't turn out like we wanted it to," Southeast coach Mark Hogan said. "But until the math doesn't make it any more, we've got a shot."

Although the Redhawks suffered yet another gut-wrenching loss in Sunday's nightcap -- they fell to 2-6 in one-run decisions in conference games, and 5-10 overall in such scenarios -- Hogan figures they have only themselves to blame.

Southeast, sound defensively most of the season and especially in recent weeks, committed seven errors Sunday as only five of Eastern Kentucky's 13 runs were earned.

"I thought our pitching for the most part was good enough," Hogan said. "We helped them out too much with the errors. You can't do that against a team that hits like Eastern Kentucky."

Still, the way Sunday's finale ended had to be hard to take.

Trailing 6-5 entering the bottom of the seventh, the Redhawks appeared poised to at least force extra innings when Andy Johnson led off with a double and advanced to third on Levi Olson's fly ball to deep center.

Andrew Graham then hit a smash that looked like it would easily get into center field -- but pitcher Michael Mulholland somehow snared the ball on one hop and threw Graham out. Dustin Pritchett followed with a fly ball to deep left-center that was caught to end the game.

"We've had so many one-run games go against us, you would think it would start going our way," Hogan said. "Graham hit the heck out of the ball. It just took a big hop. Whether the pitcher saw it or not, he made an athletic play. Then Pritchett just hit it into the fat part of the ballpark."

Josh Parham helped keep the Redhawks within striking distance with 2 1/3 innings of scoreless relief for his second consecutive strong performance, after he threw five innings of no-hit ball during a win last weekend at Eastern Illinois.

"Josh has been excellent lately," Hogan said.

Graham had a two-run homer during a four-run fourth as the Redhawks tied the game, but Eastern Kentucky (23-21, 12-8) went right back ahead with a two-run fifth. Starter Jamie McAlister (4-10) was hit with the loss.

The story of the first game was Eastern Kentucky freshman left-hander Chris Friedrich, who struck out 10 in six innings as he improved to 8-1 and lowered his OVC-best ERA that had been 2.25. He allowed five hits and one earned run.

"He's excellent, probably the best guy I've seen this year in the conference," Hogan said. "I was totally impressed."

Southeast cut into a 3-0 deficit with a two-run fifth, but the Colonels came right back with five unearned runs in the sixth to break things open. Starter Derek Herbig (2-4) took the loss.

Both teams finished the day with 17 hits. Johnson had three for the Redhawks and Jordan Payne drove in three runs. Charlie Yarbrough had four hits for the Colonels.

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