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Indians gear up for series with Samford
It's still so early in the Ohio Valley Conference baseball season that the league's teams have so far only played six of 27 scheduled games.
But Southeast Missouri State University coach Mark Hogan knows the Indians need to start making a serious push toward the top of the standings; otherwise, they might dig themselves an early hole that is simply too deep.
Hogan figures the Indians (13-15, 3-3) need to push extra hard this weekend when Samford (4-20, 0-6) visits Cape Girardeau for a three-game series at Capaha Field. There will be a 1 p.m. doubleheader today and 1 p.m. single game Saturday.
"All series are big, but this one really is," Hogan said. "We need to do well to have a chance to stay in the upper part of the league."
The Bulldogs from Birmingham, Ala., enter the series tied for last place in the 10-team league.
But Hogan doesn't expect Samford, a first-year OVC member that formerly competed in the Atlantic Sun Conference, to be a pushover. While the Bulldogs have struggled, they have had their moments this season, most notably during a 6-0 upset of Mississippi State prior to beginning OVC play.
"I know they haven't won a conference game, but they've played people close," Hogan said. "I have a lot of respect for them, and we're certainly in no position to take anybody lightly. We really need to string some conference wins together."
The Indians are tied for sixth place but are just one game behind a trio of squads deadlocked for third place. Austin Peay (6-0) and Jacksonville State (5-1) hold the top two spots.
"There's so much baseball still to be played, but we don't want to lose any more ground," Hogan said.
Said center fielder Frankie Montiel, the Indians' leading hitter with a .369 average, "This is a big series for us. Hopefully we can sweep all three and put us back toward the top of the conference."
Montiel is one of six Southeast players batting at least .300, the others being freshman outfielder Brent Lawson (.343), shortstop Ernie Bracamonte (.333), third baseman Eric Horstman (.327), designated hitter Freddy Lopez (.316) and outfielder Bryan Kurt (.315).
Lopez leads the way in home runs with five and first baseman Gary Gilbert is tops in RBIs with 21. The Indians are batting .290 as a team.
"I think our offense is coming, but we still have room for improvement," Hogan said.
Southeast has a 6.08 earned-run average. Scheduled to start today are Mike Fitch (2-2, 5.40) and Anthony Maupin (3-4, 5.03), with Ryan Forsyth (2-2, 6.11) the likely Saturday starter. All are right-handers.
A bonus for the Indians' pitching staff, said Hogan, is that ace reliever Brad Smith (3-0, four saves, 2.42) was not needed during Wednesday's non-league win over Freed-Hardeman. The right-hander has not worked since Sunday.
"That was really big because he's such a big part of our staff and he should be rested and ready to go," Hogan said. "With Bill Clayton and Jon Nourie out just about all year with injuries, we're just not real deep with our staff right now."
One of Hogan's primary concerns is a shaky defense that has committed 56 errors, which makes for a sub-par fielding percentage of .944 that ranks ninth in the OVC.
"That's just not very good, and it's way below what we've been used to around here," Hogan said. "We have to improve that, and I think we will. Overall, I still really like the makeup of this club."
Samford has a .274 batting average and a 5.75 ERA. Outfielder Matt Alling is hitting a sizzling .416 and has 29 RBIs, but freshman infielder Garrett Rice (.330) is the only other player above .300. Richard Bishop leads in homers with four.
The Bulldogs' top starting hurlers have been Stephen Artz (1-4, 4.17), Parker Gargis (0-4, 4.99) and Joseph Edens (1-5, 5.09). All are right-handers.
Like Southeast, Samford has struggled defensively with 49 errors and a .947 fielding percentage that is tied for seventh in the league.