Redhawks will try to stay atop OVC standings

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Southeast and Austin Peay bring the conference's top two pitching staffs into the weekend series.

The top two pitching staffs in the Ohio Valley Conference will square off this weekend as Southeast Missouri State attempts to remain atop the league standings.

Southeast (24-13, 9-3) and Austin Peay (20-16, 7-5) play a three-game series in Clarksville, Tenn. There will be a 1 p.m. doubleheader today and a 1 p.m. contest Sunday.

The Redhawks are tied for first place in the OVC with Jacksonville State. The Governors are fourth among 10 teams.

"Austin Peay is always one of the top teams in the league and I know they'll be ready for us on their field," Southeast coach Mark Hogan said. "We've built up a nice rivalry over the years and I look for a really tough, competitive series."

If form holds, runs could be at a premium this weekend.

Southeast leads the OVC with a 3.69 ERA -- which ranks 30th in the most recent national statistics -- while Austin Peay is second in the league at 4.06.

Southeast's three starters for the series rank among the league's top six in ERA.

Junior right-hander Dustin Renfrow (3-0, 1.47) is first, and 12th nationally, with senior left-hander Asif Shah (5-0, 2.26) third and freshmen left-hander Josh Syberg (4-1, 2.83) sixth.

Shah and Syberg are tied for second in the conference with 54 strikeouts apiece.

Renfrow will work today's nine-inning opener, followed by Shah in the seven-inning nightcap and Syberg in Sunday's nine-inning series finale.

"We've got a lot of confidence in those guys," Hogan said. "They've done the job for us all year. They've been tremendous.

"To have the three conference starters with ERAs under three is very impressive. Without looking at the numbers from years past, I don't know that we've ever had that before."

Austin Peay will counter with another fairly impressive trio of starters.

Senior right-hander Shawn Kelley (6-2, 2.78), the Govs' all-time leader in strikeouts, has posted four straight wins. Boasting the OVC's No. 5 ERA, he is scheduled to oppose Renfrow in today's opener.

Senior left-hander Matt Reynolds (6-3, 3.78) is slated to go in today's nightcap, with sophomore right-hander Ryne Mantooth (3-3, 4.84) the normal Sunday starter.

Kelley and Reynolds share the OVC lead in victories. Kelley has worked a league-high 64 2/3 innings, while Reynolds is tied for seventh in the conference with 48 strikeouts.

"From the scouting reports and by looking at the stats, they've got outstanding pitching," Hogan said. "Kelley and Reynolds are really good."

Austin Peay also has one of the OVC's premier closers in senior right-hander Ben Wilshire, who is second in the league with six saves.

The squads appear to be similar in areas besides pitching.

Southeast has a batting average of .282, which is just behind Austin Peay's .284. The Redhawks rank eighth in the OVC and the Govs are seventh.

But the Redhawks have scored the second-most runs in the conference with 253, and they lead the league in home runs with 33. Austin Peay is third with 24 homers.

Defensively, the teams are almost mirror images statistically. The Govs lead the OVC with a .969 fielding percentage, while the Redhawks are third at .964.

"A lot of the stats between the clubs are very similar," Hogan said. "It should be really interesting."

Among players who have at least 60 at-bats, the Govs boast six .300-plus hitters, led by junior infielder Josh Meeker (.393).

Junior outfielder Will Hogue (.336) leads Austin Peay in homers with six and RBIs with 23.

The Redhawks also have six players batting better than .300, led by senior shortstop Robby Moore (.352).

Shah, the designated hitter when not on the mound, is hitting .336 and is tied for the OVC lead in RBIs with 40.

Freshman catcher Jim Klocke (.330), senior second baseman Omar Padilla (.328), freshman third baseman Nick Harris (.315) and sophomore first baseman Matt Wagner (.313) round out Southeast's top hitters. Harris leads the league with 39 runs scored.

In OVC play, Klocke ranks fourth with a .436 batting average, while Padilla is first with five homers and 15 runs scored in addition to being second with 12 RBIs.

"Against the top pitchers, you're just not going to score that many runs, but we've been able to get pretty timely hitting up and down the lineup," Hogan said.

That, coupled with stellar pitching and solid defense, has allowed the Redhawks to win all four of their OVC series to date, with one sweep.

"That's been our goal from the start of the season, to win every [conference] series," sophomore left fielder Matt Wulfers said. "We'd love to win all three games this weekend, but I think we'd take two out of three."

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