Redhawks face OVC's top prospect
Saturday, May 10, 2008
There will be plenty on the line when Southeast Missouri State and Eastern Kentucky play an Ohio Valley Conference baseball series this weekend.
There also will be one of the nation's top professional pitching prospects on the mound.
Strong-armed Christian Friedrich will lead EKU to Cape Girardeau for the three-game set at Capaha Field that begins with today's 1 p.m. doubleheader and concludes at 1 p.m. Sunday.
Southeast (19-20, 9-10) is in sixth place in the 10-team OVC, while EKU (22-24-1, 9-12) is in seventh place, one game behind the Redhawks.
Only the top six finishers qualify for the OVC tournament. Every squad has six conference games remaining.
"This is a crucial time for everyone," said Southeast coach Mark Hogan, whose Redhawks are just one game out of third place in the scrambled middle of the conference pack. "Either team that wins two out of three, it sets yourself up for the final weekend with a good chance to get in the tournament."
With Southeast trying to fight its way into the conference tournament, this weekend's series would be intriguing enough for local fans.
The presence of Friedrich should spark even more interest.
Friedrich, a junior left-hander who is scheduled to get the ball in today's nine-inning opener, was rated the sixth-best major league prospect in college baseball by the publication Baseball America earlier this season.
That means Friedrich is a strong possibility to be selected in the first round of this year's draft and likely will not return to EKU for his senior season.
"He's projected in the first round from everybody I've talked to," Hogan said. "I wish I could sit back and watch him as a fan. Unfortunately, we've got to play against him."
It's doubtful anything Friedrich has done so far this season has hurt his draft status, as the preseason All-American has compiled eye-opening statistics.
Friedrich, a native of Evanston, Ill., who was a slender, lightly-recruited high school hurler, but has grown and blossomed since signing with EKU, is 5-1 with an OVC-best 1.78 ERA.
The 6-foot-3, 208-pound Friedrich has allowed 32 hits in 65 2/3 innings as he ranks third nationally in fewest hits per game. He has 86 strikeouts against 24 walks, and opponents are batting .142 against him.
And Friedrich is no one-season wonder. He went 10-2 with a 1.98 ERA as a freshman, then was 5-4 with a 2.09 ERA last year. He already is a two-time all-OVC first-team selection.
"He's a fabulous pitcher, just a great package," Hogan said.
Friedrich is coming off a dominant performance against a strong-hitting Samford squad last week. In eight innings, he allowed one baserunner -- on a second-inning double -- while striking out nine. He retired the final 20 batters he faced in a 10-0 win.
Since the odds will be stacked against Southeast in today's opener no matter who takes the mound, Hogan said he will not go with his usual game one starter -- senior ace right-hander Dustin Renfrow -- instead matching junior left-hander James Leigh against Friedrich.
Leigh is 5-1 with a 5.62 ERA. Renfrow, who will work today's seven-inning nightcap, is 4-4 with a 4.83 ERA.
Hogan said his pitching plans for Sunday's nine-inning series finale are up in the air as the Redhawks have struggled to find consistency in that spot.
Hogan said senior right-hander Ivan Nails (2-3, 7.52), who has made one OVC start, is a strong possibility to get the ball Sunday.
Led by Friedrich, EKU has the OVC's second-best team ERA at 4.65, while Southeast is seventh at 5.96.
In conference play, the Colonels are second at 4.29 and the Redhawks are eighth at 7.61.
"We've had a real hard time being consistent on the mound," Hogan said.
Offensively, Southeast and EKU rank fourth and fifth in the OVC in batting average at .291 and .290, respectively, although in league play the Redhawks are second (.315).
While Southeast tops the conference in home runs with 47, EKU is the league leader in stolen bases with 101 (out of 122 attempts).
Anthony Ottrando, a Kentucky transfer, leads the Colonels with a .361 batting average and 40 RBIs.
EKU's Dylan McMaine is the OVC stolen base leader with 21, having been caught just twice.