Panthers have the final answer

Thursday, May 27, 2004

PADUCAH, Ky. -- Things couldn't have started much better for Southeast Missouri State University on Wednesday.

But they couldn't have ended any worse.

The fifth-seeded Indians saw an early eight-run lead evaporate almost in the blink of an eye as second-seeded Eastern Illinois stormed back for an 18-9 victory in the opening game of the Ohio Valley Conference tournament.

Southeast (26-27) will play the loser of top-seeded Austin Peay and sixth-seeded Samford at 12:30 p.m. today in an elimination game of the six-team event. Austin Peay and Samford were supposed to have played Wednesday night but rain pushed that contest back to 9 a.m. today.

"It's a big win for them and a brutal loss for us, but that's the way it goes in a tournament," Southeast coach Mark Hogan said. "It's going to be very tough for us now, like it has been all year. But it's tournament play and anything can happen."

What happened to Southeast on Wednesday was a nightmarish bottom of the fourth inning that saw EIU (26-28) send 18 batters to the plate and score 13 runs, turning what had been an 8-0 Indians lead after 1 1/2 innings into a 16-8 Panthers cushion after four frames.

"We got up eight runs in the second inning and things are going great," Southeast's Gary Gilbert said. "All of a sudden they get a couple hits and some walks ... an inning like that is very rare but you have to give them credit."

The Panthers' huge fourth -- believed to be an OVC tournament record for runs in one inning, although officials were not absolutely certain -- featured nine hits, five walks and one hit batter.

Adding to the "Twilight Zone" aspect of the rally was that EIU's first four hits in the frame never left the infield, four of the walks came with the bases loaded to force in runs and another tally crossed the plate via a passed ball.

Southeast used three pitchers in the inning as starter Anthony Maupin was replaced by Mike Fitch, who gave way to Ryan Forsyth. Only Forsyth left unscored upon.

"We were in the same situation last year, down eight run against Austin Peay, and we came back to win, so I think that experience helped," said EIU's Chris Uhle, who added with a smile. "That big inning was very encouraging. Nobody wanted to make the next out."

Freshman Mark Chagnon put the Panthers ahead for good at 9-8 with an RBI single. Uhle helped break things open with a three-run triple that made it 13-8 and freshman Ryan Campbell's two-run homer that knocked out Fitch opened up a 16-8 bulge to complete the uprising.

"For them to come back so quick like that, it was demoralizing," Hogan said. "Eastern Illinois has a good offensive team. I thought we would score more. We did early, but we couldn't get anything going after that."

Perhaps the hero for the Panthers was pitcher Kyle Widegren, who relieved starter Ted Juske in the second inning, after the Indians had already hammered Juske for seven hits.

Widegren (8-4) gave up Bo Jenkins' two-run triple in the second that made it 8-0 -- all eight runs were charged to Juske -- and then limited the Indians to two hits and no runs over the next 6 1/3 frames. Southeast was blanked until Gilbert's two-out, solo home run in the ninth against EIU's third hurler, Alex Chapple.

"The job Widegren did was awesome," said Hogan, whose squad jumped on top with four runs in each of the first two innings. "He just shut us down."

EIU, which got two runs in the second and one in the third before its huge fourth, finished with 16 hits and while also benefiting from nine walks and two hit batters. Campbell, Chagnon and David Chacon all had three hits, with Uhle delivering four RBIs.

Southeast had 11 hits but just three after the second inning. Gilbert, Eric Horstman and Frankie Montiel led the way with two hits apiece. Gilbert had three RBIs.

Maupin was charged with seven runs on seven hits and three walks in three innings. Fitch (5-5) took the loss, allowing nine runs on four hits and four walks while retiring just two batters. Forsyth worked 2 1/3 scoreless frames, giving up three hits, while freshman Matt Carter allowed two runs and two hits in two innings.

Now the Indians begin the rugged task of trying to claw their way out of the losers bracket. Underdog Murray State did it last year on its way to the title, which gave Gilbert at least a little encouragement.

"It's definitely tough, but that's why they make it double elimination, so you can lose a game and come back," Gilbert said. "Murray did it last year. Maybe we can do it."


OVC BASEBALL TOURNAMENT

at Paducah, Ky.

(seeds in parentheses)Wednesday

Game 1 -- (2) Eastern Illinois 18, (5) SE MISSOURI 9

Game 2 -- (3) Jacksonville State 15, (4) Eastern Kentucky 0Thursday

Game 3 -- (1) Austin Peay vs. (6) Samford, 9 a.m.

Game 4 -- SE MISSOURI vs. Game 3 loser, 12:30 p.m.

Game 5 -- Eastern Kentucky vs. Game 3 winner, 4 p.m.

Game 6 -- Eastern Illinois vs. Jacksonville State, 7 p.m.Today

Games TBD at 11 a.m., 3 p.m., 7 p.m.Saturday

Championship, noon (if necessary, 3 p.m.)

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