All the people who expected a tight, down-to-the-wire three-game series between Austin Peay and Southeast Missouri State University only got it half-right Saturday.
After a classic opener won by Austin Peay, 3-2 in 10 innings, the visiting Governors put a resounding cap on their doubleheader sweep with a 15-4 romp in the seven-inning nightcap. The series concludes at 1 p.m. today at Capaha Field.
Defending Ohio Valley Conference regular-season champion Austin Peay is 22-11 overall and a first-place 9-2 in the league. Southeast (16-18, 6-5) began the day in a five-way tie for second place but is now in a three-way tie for fourth. The Indians trail the Govs by three games and are two games behind Eastern Kentucky and Eastern Illinois, both 8-3.
"It was a tough day for us, but all the credit goes to Austin Peay," Southeast coach Mark Hogan said. "They really played well."
Austin Peay did indeed have an impressive performance, particularly defensively. The Govs had no errors in either game, turned four double plays and made several remarkable plays.
Southeast was able to match Austin Peay defensively in the opener -- the Indians also had no errors and made several sparkling plays -- but broke down in the nightcap with five errors.
"Our defense was incredible today," said Austin Peay senior right-hander Jeff Mault, who was fairly incredible himself as he was the winning pitcher in both games. "It feels good to come here and sweep the doubleheader."
Southeast right-hander Mike Fitch and Austin Peay left-hander Rowdy Hardy matched each other pitch for pitch in the thrilling opener, although neither figured into the decision. Fitch allowed nine hits and two runs in 7 2/3 innings. Hardy gave up eight hits and two runs in 8 1/3 innings.
Both teams had solid chances to win late in the regulation nine innings, but the squads went to the 10th tied 2-2.
In the top of the frame, Austin Peay loaded the bases with two outs on two singles and a walk against Southeast ace reliever Brad Smith, who had entered in the eighth. Smith (3-1) then hit Chris Poynter with a pitch to force in Jake Peterson with the tie-breaking run.
The Govs were then saved in the bottom of the 10th by right-fielder Ron Bethke, who took what looked like a leadoff home run away from Ernie Bracamonte. Bethke went high against the fence to catch Bracamonte's blast that would have forced another tie.
"It was definitely over the fence," Bethke said. "I just timed it right and caught the ball."
Said Hogan: "That was a big-league play."
Austin Peay needed no such suspense in the nightcap as the Govs scored early and often against three Southeast hurlers, including starter Anthony Maupin (4-5), who lasted just 3 1/3 innings.
Mault (8-2), after allowing one hit in the final 1 2/3 innings of the opener, worked six innings as the second-game starter, allowing six hits and one run.
"My arm feels good, but I don't think I'll pitch tomorrow," Mault said, smiling.
Said Hogan, "What Mault did today was mind-boggling. To pitch the last 1 2/3 innings in a really tense situation, and then to come back and start with six strong innings is pretty incredible."
The Govs wound up with 27 hits after getting 16 in the finale. Poynter led the way by going 5-for-7 with five RBIs. Matthew Ledbetter and Tommy Smith both had four hits.
Southeast had 18 hits, nine in each game. Freshman Brent Lawson, Eric Horstman and Freddy Lopez each had four hits. Lawson had three hits in the opener and drove in both runs. Bracamonte had the day's lone homer, a three-run shot in the last inning of the nightcap that only served to make the final score a little less lopsided.
Now the Indians will try to salvage one game of the series and keep Austin Peay in their sights. Southeast's Derek Herbig (2-3, 3.07 ERA) is scheduled to start today against Brad Daniel (3-0, 2.86).
"We need to come out and make sure we don't get swept," Hogan said. "But there's a lot of baseball still to be played. We're not even at the halfway point of the conference season yet."