Southeast's baseball challenge: Return to winning ways

Sunday, May 28, 2006

I don't think a whole lot was expected out of the 2006 Southeast Missouri State baseball team, other than from people within the program who are always going to be optimistic.

When a squad has to rely on so many young, inexperienced players -- which the Redhawks did -- there are going to be plenty of bumps in the road.

That turned out to be the case, as the Redhawks went 23-33 overall and 11-16 in Ohio Valley Conference play. Both records rank as Southeast's worst during 12 mostly successful seasons under coach Mark Hogan.

The Redhawks did at least finish the year strong by winning six of their final nine games.

Southeast squeezed into the six-team OVC tournament on the last day of the regular season to avoid missing the event for the first time under Hogan, then bettered its No. 6 seed by finishing fourth.

While that solid late push should at least give Southeast momentum heading into fall practice and the 2007 campaign, the Redhawks will face a major challenge as they try to lift the program back to the lofty level it had experienced for much of Hogan's tenure before leveling off in recent years.

The Redhawks have had overall losing records the past two seasons, after they had experienced just one sub-.500 mark during Hogan's first 10 years, that coming way back in 1997.

After winning at least 31 games for four straight seasons from 2000 through 2003 -- going 139-77 and never finishing less than 11 games above .500 during that time -- the Redhawks have a combined 76-93 record over the past three years and have not really been a factor in the OVC race.

Southeast needed late surges to tie for fourth place in the conference in both 2004 and 2005, then the Redhawks had to win their final regular-season game this year to simply tie for sixth, which marked their lowest OVC finish under Hogan.

I'm not suggesting that it's time to panic if you're a Redhawks baseball supporter.

After all, Hogan entered this season with an 11-year Southeast record of 332-265 -- including two NCAA tournament appearances -- so that's proof of his ability to direct a winning program.

I can't imagine what kind of shape the Southeast baseball program would be in without Hogan, who has had to raise tens of thousands of dollars per year on his own in order to keep the Redhawks financially competitive with the rest of the OVC.

And on a personal level, I think the world of Hogan. Many other people no doubt feel the same, based on the tremendous support he has around the community.

That said, however, it is important for the Redhawks to begin getting back to the type of program they had just a few years ago, which Hogan readily acknowledges.

Whether the 2007 Redhawks can make that happen remains to be seen, but there is no doubt they have a big challenge ahead of them.

Even though there weren't many seniors on this year's Southeast baseball team, the departing Redhawks still represented several of the squad's top players.

Although the offense struggled for the first part of the season, it came around enough over the latter stages to indicate that hitting might not be such a big problem in 2007.

Pitching, however, will be a major question mark since three seniors did the bulk of the starting this year.

The weather has heated up locally -- in a major way -- which can only mean one thing.

It's just about time for the summer baseball season to get going.

And the top dogs in that area are the Plaza Tire Capahas, who begin what figures to be yet another successful campaign Friday night.

The Capahas -- the area's highest-level summer team that features primarily college players -- open their 40th season under legendary manager Jess Bolen with a home game against Valmeyer, Ill.

Last season, the Capahas went 24-8 and made their 24rd consecutive appearance in the prestigious National Baseball Congress World Series in Wichita, Kan.

Bolen's career record with the squad is an eye-popping 1,253-322. There is no reason to think he won't add plenty of victories to that total over the next few months.

Southeast's latest men's basketball recruit looks on paper like an excellent catch for new coach Scott Edgar and the Redhawks.

Marcus Rhodes, a combo guard who played this past season for Harmony Christian, a prep school in Cincinnati, Ohio, has signed with Southeast, but it won't be official until his mother's signature also is on the scholarship agreement, which should happen soon.

Harmony Christian coach Mark Metzka said Rhodes was also recruited by Nebraska and Wichita State, among other Division I programs.

Rhodes was also reported to be headed for Indiana -- he is a native of Gary, Ind. -- in 2005 as a prop 48 player but chose another year of prep school instead.

Rhodes' scholarship will likely replace the one that had been held by Eric Jones, a freshman guard who almost certainly will not return after he ran into academic problems this year.

By the way, since the official spring signing period has ended, Rhodes hasn't actually signed a letter of intent but instead inked a scholarship agreement, which is nonbinding.

That means he can change his mind and still play for another school until he enrolls at Southeast.

But Southeast fans shouldn't be too concerned because this is a fairly common occurrence on the mid-major level, with players committing to a school after the official signing period is over.

I wrote last week that Edgar and the Redhawks were in the process of lining up a third "guarantee" game for the 2006-07 schedule, to go along with the contests at Iowa State and Purdue that had already been reported.

Well, I just found out that the third money game will be at Arkansas in the season opener.

Hopefully the entire schedule will be released in the next few days.

Speaking of Edgar, he told me the other day that he encourages all aspiring young basketball players in the area to attend the Redhawks' summer camps. He promises they'll have a fun, exciting time and won't be disappointed.

The camps -- there are several sessions, for grade school through high school ages -- begin in June, with Edgar and his staff directing. For information, call 651-2564.

And for info on any of the numerous summer sports camps at Southeast, call 651-2113 or visit the athletic department's Web site

Good luck to the Oran High School baseball team as it competes this week in the Class 1 final four in Columbia.

Oran has been one of the state's premier programs under coach Mitch Wood and assistant Larry Boshell, with final four appearances in four of the past five seasons.

The Eagles have come up just short of the championship on several occasions, but here's hoping they finally bring back that elusive title.

Marty Mishow is a sports writer for the Southeast Missourian.

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