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Redhawks fall to Redbirds in opening game of weekend series
Southeast Missouri State baseball coach Mark Hogan was fairly certain that Illinois State would be the Redhawks' best opponent so far this season.
Nothing Hogan saw during Friday's opener of a three-game series changed his mind.
ISU rallied from a three-run deficit after five innings to beat the host Redhawks 8-5.
The Redhawks (7-4) and Redbirds (4-6) will square off again today at Capaha Field, followed by Sunday's series finale. Both contests are scheduled for 1 p.m. starts.
"Illinois State is the best team we've played so far, no doubt about it," Hogan said. "What Arkansas and Nebraska told us about them was as advertised -- that they are a very good ballclub.
"Overall it was a good ballgame, we just came up short. It should be an interesting series."
ISU dropped two of three games in a series at nationally ranked Arkansas, and also suffered a loss to nationally ranked Nebraska. The Redbirds have still not played at home.
"We like to play a tough schedule, and I think SEMO is another very good team we're playing," ISU coach Jim Brownlee said. "They're off to a great start and it should be a very good series."
Hogan came away encouraged by the Redhawks' improved offense, after they entered the game with a team batting average of just .226.
Southeast finished with 11 hits -- just off its season high of 12 hits, at Jackson State on Feb. 18 -- and probably made the best contact it has all year.
The Redhawks had several hard outs, either on balls hit right at ISU fielders or on impressive plays by the Redbirds.
"I was obviously encouraged by our offense," Hogan said. "We not only had 11 hits, we had a lot of loud outs against quality pitching."
Hogan continued to be impressed by freshman third baseman Nick Harris, who has been a fixture in the starting lineup since the season opener.
Harris, an Alabama native, went 3-for-4 Friday, including his first collegiate home run, a leadoff shot in the first inning. He added a double and is batting a team-leading .333.
"He's a special player and he's got a great future ahead of him here," Hogan said.
Senior second baseman Omar Padilla, who had been slumping after hitting .340 last year, also went 3-for-4 and drove in two runs. Padilla raised his average from .188 to .250.
"It was nice to see Omar get going," Hogan said.
Another freshman regular for the Redhawks, catcher Jim Klocke from St. Louis, had two hits.
Sophomore first baseman Matt Wagner, a Nebraska transfer, added two RBIs for Southeast.
But the Redhawks, after raking ISU starter Eric Theisen for nine hits and five runs over the first four innings, were limited to just two hits and no runs the rest of the way by two relievers.
Jim Sajewich worked 4 innings of one-hit ball for the win, while Kyle O'Brien allowed a hit and two runners in the ninth but closed things out for the save.
"Eric didn't have it today and their hitters did a great job, but our bullpen picked us up," Brownlee said.
Southeast got a solid start from right-hander Dustin Renfrow, a junior college transfer. He allowed seven hits and three runs in 5 innings.
But unlike ISU's relievers, the Redhawks' bullpen faltered. Renfrow, despite a strong 2.05 earned run average, is just 1-0 with three no-decisions in four starts.
"He gave us another great start," Hogan said. "He's been a hard-luck guy. He's pitched well all four times."
ISU, trailing 5-2, rallied with two runs in the sixth and three in the seventh to go ahead for good.
Sophomore right-hander Daniel Schuh and senior left-hander Josh Parham both allowed two of those five runs, with Parham (1-2) getting the loss.
"We just didn't get it done on the mound in the sixth and seventh innings," Hogan said. "But give Illinois State credit. They've got a good hitting team."
Kevin Konsler doubled twice and had three of ISU's 12 hits. He also drove in three runs.
Kevin Dubler also doubled twice for the Redbirds, while Matt Bolt belted a massive leadoff homer in the ninth off freshman left-hander Derek Hayden, who made his first Southeast appearance.