Making OVC tourney helps soften Redhawks' second straight losing season

Tuesday, June 6, 2006

Southeast Missouri State baseball coach Mark Hogan feared the Redhawks might suffer through their share of growing pains this season.

That turned out to be the case, but perhaps it was even more extreme than Hogan envisioned. Southeast posted its worst overall and Ohio Valley Conference records of Hogan's 12 seasons at the helm of his alma mater.

Sporting new starters at several positions around the field -- and featuring just seven seniors -- the Redhawks finished 23-33 overall and 11-16 in OVC play, tying for sixth in the 10-team conference.

"It's certainly been a maturation process for this program because of the turnover we had last year," Hogan said. "We had some highlights, we just didn't have enough. I think that's the earmark of a younger club."

This year's performance continued what Hogan acknowledged has been a disappointing trend for Southeast in recent seasons.

The Redhawks have had overall losing records the past two years after experiencing just one sub-.500 mark during Hogan's first 10 seasons, that coming 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 76-93 record over the past three years and have not been a real 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 tie for sixth, which marked their lowest OVC finish under Hogan.

"I am disappointed," said Hogan, who has a 355-298 record at Southeast, including NCAA tournament appearances in 1998 and 2002. "The league has gotten a lot stronger the last few years, and now it's our challenge as a program to step up."

A major problem for the Redhawks much of the year was offense, as many of their hitters struggled, particularly over the first part of the season.

Offensive woes

Southeast finished with a .272 batting average, which represents the worst mark during Hogan's tenure, and the Redhawks' average of 5.4 runs per game is their second-worst figure under Hogan.

But the Redhawks came on strong offensively over the second half of the season, after they were mired at .217 nearly halfway into the campaign.

"Early, we just didn't hit," Hogan said. "But we hit a lot better as the season went on."

Southeast's top hitter was a senior, all-OVC catcher Levi Olson, who batted .343 with 32 runs batted in. His 20 doubles ranks third on the school's all-time single-season list.

The Redhawks other position seniors were designated hitter Andy Johnson, who batted .309 with six home runs but had to leave the squad late in the year to begin a job; shortstop Jordan Payne, who carried a late hot stretch to a .274 average and team highs of nine homers and 34 RBIs; and right fielder Chris Gibson (.220), who struggled much of the year before surging late.

Two of Southeast's top three hitters were juniors in all-OVC second baseman Omar Padilla (.340, 18 doubles, 25 RBIs) and left fielder Dustin Pritchett (.319, 14 doubles, 22 RBIs).

Showing promise as freshmen starters were first baseman Aaron Rave (.299, 25 RBIs), center fielder Daniel Schuh (.274, 22 RBIs) and designated hitter/outfielder Andrew Graham (.252).

Rave and Graham made the OVC's all-freshman team.

Among the first-year juniors, third baseman Daryl Graham hit .268, third baseman Phillip Riley hit .241 with 26 RBIs, and outfielder Asif Shah hit .250. Another junior, outfielder Brent Lawson, was the team's top returning hitter but struggled much of the year en route to a .176 average.

Sophomore first baseman James Clayton could be a factor next year. After having a solid freshman season, he missed most of this year with an injury.

"We lose some good hitters, but we return a pretty nice core group," Hogan said. "We had a lot of guys show promise that they can be good hitters on this level."

Seniors led pitching staff

In the pitching department, Southeast's 5.48 earned-run average was not bad by college standards, but it was also higher than what most of Hogan's teams have had.

Three of the Redhawks' primary starters were seniors, with Anthony Maupin (7-5, 5.14 ERA) leading in wins and Jamie McAlister (4-12, 4.36, 3 saves) pitching better than his school-record loss total indicates.

Derek Herbig (3-4, 5.77) also was a regular in the rotation for much of the conference schedule.

"We lose some good arms with the three seniors," Hogan said.

Riley (3-5, 6.17) was probably Southeat's hardest thrower, and he showed flashes of being a dominant OVC starter.

Shah (2-3, 5.95), a crafty left-hander, also had some strong performances on the mound and could be a contender for a starting spot next season.

Junior left-hander Josh Parham (2-2, 4.14, 3 saves) from Jackson High School emerged as a force out of the bullpen. He was the Redhawks' most consistent relief pitcher and made a team-high 27 appearances.

Andrew Graham had limited work -- he did not allow a run in 4 2/3 innings -- and could be a factor next year, while several other pitchers who saw limited action will also return.

But there is no doubt pitching -- particularly starting pitching -- probably ranks as the Redhawks' biggest question mark entering next season.

"It will be a big key," Hogan said. "Riley started to emerge, Shah showed some things ... we signed some good pitchers and how some of those guys perform for us will really be important.

"Overall, I think we signed some excellent recruits and I'm hoping that class will be really big for us."

Hogan won't have one of the recruits he was really counting on as infielder/pitcher Adam Howard from Meramec Community College by way of North County High School recently signed with the Florida Marlins. He was taken in the 33rd round of the 2005 amateur draft.

"We're happy for him but it's a big loss for us," Hogan said. "But I still like a lot of the others we signed."

Hogan is encouraged that the Redhawks finished the season strong by winning six of their final nine games, and they were fourth in the six-team OVC tournament despite being the No. 6 seed.

Hogan knows the key is to build on that as the 2007 Redhawks try to help Southeast's program begin climbing toward the top of the OVC -- where it used to regularly reside.

"We started off inexperienced, but we showed a lot of improvement," Hogan said. "The key in the fall is to pick up where we left off.

"I feel like we'll be a lot better club. Hopefully, we can get back to being a 30-win club again."

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