Otahkians try to erase rough regular season

Thursday, May 13, 2004

Southeast Missouri State University's softball team compiled the worst overall regular season record in the program's history this year.

And the Otahkians' sixth-place Ohio Valley Conference finish is their lowest since joining the league in 1992.

Still, coach Lana Richmond isn't counting the Otahkians out of the six-team, double-elimination OVC tournament that begins today in Richmond, Ky.

The sixth-seeded Otahkians (15-34, 10-14) play third-seeded Tennessee Tech (43-23, 19-8) at 11:15 a.m. A win advances them to today's 3:45 p.m. semifinal while a loss puts them in Friday's 9 a.m. elimination game.

Also in the tournament are top-seeded and host Eastern Kentucky (39-14, 22-4), No. 2 Tennessee-Martin (37-19, 18-7), No. 4 Samford (27-31, 17-9) and No. 5 Jacksonville State (39-19, 16-9). The winner earns an NCAA tournament berth.

"We definitely have a shot," Richmond said. "We haven't been blown out by any conference team. All our games have been close, but close doesn't count.

"But there's a lot of balance in the tournament. It should be interesting."

Southeast has lost only two conference games by more than three runs, those being seven-run and four-run setbacks. The Otahkians lost six of their final seven league contests, but only one of those seven defeats was by as many as three runs.

Richmond is concerned that Southeast's offense, which surged during the middle of the season, has struggled lately. The Otahkians have scored just seven runs in their past seven games and have been shut out three times.

"The key for us is at the plate," Richmond said. "We fell off quite a bit the last few games, but we've seen every pitcher in the OVC so we know what to expect."

Richmond expects Tennessee Tech, Southeast's first-round opponent, to be tough to hit. The Eaglettes have by far the OVC's best earned-run average at 1.14. They are led by Lori Bayless (20-5, 0.88), who has allowed just 101 hits in 159 2/3 innings while striking out 185.

"They've got the best pitching staff in the OVC," Richmond said.

But Tech has struggled offensively with a .231 average. The Otahkians lost two of three meetings with the Eaglettes this year, the victory being 3-1 in 10 innings as Amy Fahnestock went the distance and tossed a three-hitter. The losses to Tech were 7-0 and 3-1.

Richmond has been relying heavily on Fahnestock (9-12, 2.87) recently and plans to ride the junior college transfer in the tournament. The coach points to Fahnestock's 22 consecutive innings pitched in a junior college national tournament.

Southeast has a 2.56 ERA and a .246 batting average, led by Kelly Birk (.316) and Jamie Birk (.310).

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