Southeast baseball visits OVC-power Jacksonville State

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Since joining the Ohio Valley Conference in 2004, Jacksonville State has been the league's most successful baseball team.

Southeast Missouri State gets a crack at the potent Gamecocks this weekend in a three-game series that will have major OVC implications.

There will be a 1 p.m. doubleheader today and 1 p.m. contest Sunday in Jacksonville, Ala.

"It will be a big test weekend for both clubs," Southeast coach Mark Hogan said. "I know both teams are planning on being there [in the OVC race] at the end.

"Whoever comes out good in this series, either winning two of three or sweeping, will be in good shape."

Southeast, 14-11 overall, is a second-place 5-2 in the 10-team OVC, just one-half game behind Samford.

Preseason OVC favorite JSU is only 13-16 overall, but the Gamecocks are tied for third in the league at 6-3, just percentage points behind the Redhawks.

In their first four seasons of OVC play, JSU compiled the conference's best cumulative record in league competition at 72-36.

The Gamecocks have not finished below third in the OVC's regular season in the past four years, a feat no other conference squad can boast.

JSU has one OVC regular-season title and two runner-up finishes. The Gamecocks also have reached the OVC tournament finals in all four seasons, with two titles.

"They've really got a great program," Hogan said.

The Gamecocks were predicted to win the conference this season primarily because they returned a host of key players from last year's club that went 18-9 in league play and finished just one game behind Austin Peay, which also beat JSU to capture the OVC tournament championship.

Foremost among JSU's stars is senior outfielder Clay Whittemore, the reigning OVC player of the year who also earned that preseason nod this year.

Whittemore was listed on several preseason All-American teams after a junior campaign that saw him bat .391 with 69 RBIs.

This year Whittemore is hitting .342 with five doubles, four triples, two home runs and 25 RBIs. He is tied for the OVC lead in triples.

"He's a great player," Hogan said.

JSU's leading hitter is freshman outfielder Todd Cunningham at .347.

Overall, the Gamecocks have struggled statistically. They rank eighth in the OVC with a .263 batting average, eighth with a 5.94 ERA and seventh with a .956 fielding percentage.

JSU's eight homers are second-to-last in the league, and the Gamecocks are averaging just 5.1 runs per game.

The Gamecocks' top starting pitcher has been sophomore right-hander Ben Tootle, who is 5-2 with a 5.27 ERA. He was a member of last year's OVC all-freshmen team.

"What we've been hearing is their starting pitching is very good, let by Tootle, and if they have a problem it's out of the bullpen," Hogan said.

Hogan will make a change in his pitching rotation for this weekend as he switches his Sunday starter.

Junior left-hander James Leigh (5-1, 3.60) will start today's nine-inning opener, with senior right-hander Dustin Renfrow (3-1, 2.91) slated to go in the seven-inning nightcap.

Leigh is tied with Tootle for the OVC lead in wins, while Renfrow is fifth in ERA. Leigh and Renfrow are also second and fourth, respectively, in strikeouts per game.

Senior right-hander Ivan Nails (1-2, 5.00) will replace sophomore lefty Josh Syberg (0-3, 5.70) for Sunday's nine-inning series finale.

Nails, who will make his first OVC start and just the second start of his two-year Southeast career, is coming off Tuesday's brilliant eight-inning, shutout relief performance against Southern Illinois.

"It's just playing a hot hand, like a guy swinging a hot bat," Hogan said. "We haven't given up on Josh at all, and in this case he'll be ready all weekend for what we need him to do."

Southeast is fourth in the OVC in batting (.286), third in ERA (4.72) and first in fielding (.968, league-low 29 errors).

The Redhawks have an OVC-best 35 homers and are averaging 7.2 runs per game.

Sophomore catcher Jim Klocke has the OVC's sixth-best average (.384). Junior outfielder Tyrell Cummings leads the league in home runs with nine and is also first in RBIs per game with a total of 34.

"I like the way we're playing and it should be a heck of a series," Hogan said.

Another pitcher signed

For the second time in two days, Southeast announced the signing of a pitcher for the 2009 season.

Kyle Gumieny, a 6-foot-5 right-hander at Lamar (Colo.) Community College, was first team all-region as a freshman last season, when he went 7-3 with a 2.24 ERA in 64 1/3 innings. He walked only three batters while striking out 30 and had a no-hitter.

So far this season, Gumieny has a 3.10 ERA in 49 1/3 innings, with 37 strikeouts and only nine walks. He also has another no-hitter this year.

Gumieny also carries a perfect 4.0 grade point average at Lamar.

"Kyle is another pitcher with a significant upside," Hogan said in a release. "We're really excited about bringing him in.

"The most intriguing thing about Kyle is his ability to throw strikes with good velocity. He will be able to get deep into games because he can conserve pitches."

On Thursday, Southeast announced the signing of 6-5 left-hander Greg Hendrix from Shelton State (Ala.) Community College.

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