Redhawks seniors to play final home games

Saturday, May 12, 2007
Southeast Missouri State pitcher Asif Shah will be among 10 seniors to make their final appearance at Capaha Field this weekend. Shah, who has been a threat both on the mound and at the plate, will pitch the second game of today's doubleheader against Morehead State. (Kit Doyle)

Southeast Missouri State will try to stay in the hunt for an Ohio Valley Conference regular-season title and also send its 10 seniors out with some fond Capaha Field memories this weekend.

The Redhawks (28-19, 13-7) close out their home schedule with a three-game series against Morehead State (15-31, 8-13).

There will be a 1 p.m. doubleheader today and a 1 p.m. contest Sunday. Southeast's seniors and their families will be recognized prior to Sunday's game. River Eagle Distributing will be today's game sponsor.

Southeast is in third place in the OVC, a half-game behind Jacksonville State and 1 1/2 games behind Austin Peay.

Morehead State is tied for eighth among 10 OVC teams. The top six finishers qualify for the conference tournament, and the Eagles are just two games out of sixth place.

"At this point we still have a legitimate shot at the [regular-season] championship, and Morehead is fighting to make the tournament, so it should be a great weekend of baseball," said Southeast coach Mark Hogan, whose squad has six league games remaining.

The Redhawks are in the midst of their best season since the 2003 squad went 31-20, and the seniors have played a major role.

Three of Southeast's top hitters are seniors, as well as two of the Redhawks' primary starting pitchers and one of their main relievers.

"It's a real meaningful weekend for the seniors, with their last home games," Hogan said. "They've all been a part of the nice season we're having, which is great, because you want them to experience success in their final year.

"It's a big weekend for these 10 guys and hopefully we'll send them out the right way."

Second baseman Omar Padilla is the most accomplished of the Redhawks' upperclassmen, having earned first-team all-OVC honors last year as he batted .340.

Padilla has certainly not had a letdown this season. He leads Southeast with a .339 average, to go along with seven home runs, 10 doubles, 33 runs batted in and 46 runs scored.

In OVC statistics, Padilla is tied for second in runs scored, tied for fourth in home runs and ranks seventh in slugging percentage at .537.

"Omar has just been a tremendous player for us," Hogan said.

Shortstop Robby Moore has had an impressive bounce-back season, after hitting just .171 in limited at-bats a year ago. Moore is batting .317 to tie for third on the squad and he is eighth in the OVC in on-base percentage at .444.

"It's great to see the way Robby has bounced back this year," Hogan said. "He and Omar have been tremendous as the middle of our defense. They will be very hard to replace."

Asif Shah has developed into the OVC's top two-way player, and he is the only OVC player to ever be named conference player of the week and pitcher of the week in the same season.

Shah is batting .301 and leads the Redhawks with 45 RBIs, which is tied for fourth in the league. He also has five homers and 10 doubles.

On the mound, Shah is 6-2 with a 2.82 earned-run average. He has three shutouts to tie for third nationally in that department, and he is just the fifth pitcher in Southeast history to throw three or more shutouts in one season.

In OVC pitching statistics, Shah -- who last year hit just .250 and was 2-3 with a 5.95 ERA -- is first in shutouts, tied for first in complete games with six, tied for third in wins, is fourth in ERA and is fourth in strikeouts with 63.

"I think Asif is the player of the year in the OVC for what he's done on both sides," Hogan said. "What a year he's having."

Phillip Riley, who has been Southeast's top mid-week starting pitcher and a key reliever in conference play, is 5-3 with one save and a 2.95 ERA. He was 3-5 with a 6.17 ERA in 2006.

"Phillip has been very valuable for us in a variety of roles," Hogan said.

Josh Parham, a Jackson High School product, has been one of the OVC's more reliable relievers, and among Southeast's top relievers the past two years. He is 4-3 with two saves and a 3.29 ERA.

"What a big key Josh has been for us out of the bullpen the past few years," Hogan said.

Right fielder Daryl Graham and center fielder Dustin Pritchett have also been starters most of the season.

Graham is batting .275 and would rank ninth in the conference with a .442 on-base percentage if he had enough at-bats to qualify. Pritchett has struggled at .195 after batting .319 last year and making the OVC all-tournament team, although he has a .353 on-base percentage.

"Daryl has really come on for us, and even though Dustin hasn't yet hit like he's capable, he's still a big part of what we've done," Hogan said.

Southeast's other three seniors have not seen much action, but Hogan said he values their contributions as team players.

Outfielder Brent Lawson batted better than .290 as a starter in both his freshman and sophomore seasons, but his playing time has diminished the past two years. He has just 16 at-bats this season.

Matt Carter has seen limited action out of the bullpen the last four seasons -- he has pitched just 6 2/3 innings this year -- while catcher Chad Mercado has also played sparingly this season with 10 at-bats.

Lawson and Carter are the only two Southeast seniors who have been in the program four years.

Mercado transferred from Bethune-Cookman prior to last season, while the other seven are junior college transfers.

"All the seniors have contributed in their own way, even the ones who haven't played very much," Hogan said. "They're all great kids and I've enjoyed all of them."

Eagles no pushover

Morehead State lost its first seven OVC games, but the Eagles are 8-6 in conference play since. Morehead State has won its last two league series, against defending tournament champion Jacksonville State and defending regular-season champion Samford.

The Eagles are third in the OVC with a .303 batting average -- Southeast is ninth at .274 -- although they are last with an 8.11 ERA. Southeast is second at 4.47.

"They're playing very well, and lately they've been getting outstanding pitching," Hogan said. "I look for a really tough series."

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