Defending OVC baseball champion looks to climb OVC standings

Saturday, April 26, 2008

If the Ohio Valley Conference baseball season ended today, defending champion Austin Peay would not make the league tournament.

Suffice to say, the Governors will be hungry for wins when they visit Southeast Missouri State for a three-game weekend series.

Southeast coach Mark Hogan expects the same type of hunger from his squad as it jockeys for position in the OVC standings.

There will be a 1 p.m. doubleheader today and a 1 p.m. contest Sunday.

"This is going to be an interesting weekend because of the situation both of us are in," Hogan said.

Southeast (17-16, 7-6) is fourth in the 10-team OVC, but there is a logjam of squads directly below the Redhawks.

That group includes Austin Peay (19-21, 7-8), which is in seventh place. The top six finishers make the OVC tournament.

"We're both kind of in the middle of the pack. Both sides need to win," Hogan said. "They're not having the year they want. ... I'd say the importance is the same for both sides."

Austin Peay swept the OVC last year, capturing both the regular-season and tournament championships.

The Governors have won three OVC regular-season titles in the past five years. Another time they finished second.

"They've got a great program going," Hogan said. "It's hard to stay up there on top.

"Their kids always play hard. They're just a club that you know will play a game the right way."

The Govs did suffer major graduation losses from last year's standout squad, including OVC pitcher of the year Shawn Kelley.

Austin Peay's offense is led by senior center fielder Rafael Hill, senior shortstop Tyler Farrar and senior right fielder Will Hogue.

Hill is the OVC's No. 4 hitter with a .393 average. He is tied for third in runs scored with 41 and in stolen bases with 13 (in 16 attempts).

Farrar, hitting .285, leads the league with 47 runs batted in. He is tied for third with eight home runs and tied for fifth with 12 stolen bases while being caught just once.

Hogue, batting .310, leads the conference with 18 doubles. He also has six homers.

Austin Peay's top starting pitcher has been sophomore left-hander Stephen Huff, who is 4-4 with a 3.43 earned-run average that ranks fifth in the OVC.

In 65 2/3 innings, Huff has allowed 52 hits while striking out 58 and walking 24.

The Govs' other starters this weekend are expected to be junior right-hander David Vicini (1-3, 4.97) and junior right-hander Ryne Mantooth (4-3, 6.10).

Sophomore right-hander Daniel Tenholder leads the OVC in saves with eight. He is also 3-0 with a 3.04 ERA.

Austin Peay ranks fifth in the OVC with a .286 batting average. The Govs' ERA of 5.81 is seventh, but in conference games that mark is 4.68.

"I know they're going to come in here with a good club," Hogan said.

Hogan likes the way the Redhawks have rebounded after their recent season-high six-game losing streak.

Southeast now is riding a three-game winning streak, including taking the final two of last weekend's OVC series with Samford, which had been leading the conference.

"I think we've turned the corner and we want to keep it going," Hogan said.

Southeast's potent offense is led by junior center fielder Tyrell Cummings, who is having a big rookie season with the Redhawks.

Cummings, a junior college transfer, is the OVC's No. 10 hitter with a .361 average. In conference games, Cummings is batting .436 to tie for third in the league.

Cummings is second in the OVC in homers with 10, second in RBIs with 44, second in total bases with 96, third in slugging percentage at .653 and tied for fifth in doubles with 13.

Sophomore catcher Jim Klocke is right behind Cummings with a .360 average that places him 11th in the OVC. He is batting .395 in league play, which is fifth in the conference.

Klocke also has the OVC's No. 5 on-base percentage at .471.

Sophomore shortstop Nick Harris and junior first baseman Matt Wagner are tied for third in the OVC with eight homers apiece.

Harris, second in the league with a .661 slugging percentage, has an OVC-best six homers in conference games.

Harris is hitting .330, with Wagner and junior left fielder Justin Wheeler both at .315.

Southeast's .293 batting average is third in the OVC, but in league play the Redhawks lead at .330. They have an OVC-high 45 homers, which matches their total from all of last season.

"Our offense has done well," Hogan said. "We've got some guys with some pop."

The Redhawks' pitching has struggled over the past several weeks, but Hogan sees signs that his hurlers as a group are coming around.

Southeast's ERA of 5.51 is sixth in the OVC, and in conference games the Redhawks are eighth at 7.17.

Senior right-hander Dustin Renfrow (3-3, 4.84) will start today's nine-inning opener, with junior left-hander James Leigh (5-1, 5.27) working the seven-inning nightcap.

Sophomore lefty Josh Syberg (0-3, 5.87) will go in Sunday's nine-inning series finale.

Renfrow was uncharacteristically roughed up in his last outing by Samford. Leigh has struggled after a strong start to the season, and Syberg had one of his better performances in recent weeks against Samford.

"I've got to depend on those three at the top of our rotation," Hogan said. "Each has had some great outings and some not so great outings, but we have confidence in them.

"And the rest of our staff seems to be coming together, which will be very important."

Just as this weekend is important for both the Redhawks and Govs.

"Even though there are 12 [OVC] games left, each one gets more important as you move along," Hogan said.

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