Redhawks begin OVC tournament against Governors

Wednesday, May 21, 2008
KIT DOYLE ~ kdoyle@semissourian.com Southeast senior right-hander Dustin Renfrow will start today against Austin Peay.

If their regular-season meetings are any indication, Southeast Missouri State and Austin Peay should have quite a game in today's opening round of the Ohio Valley Conference baseball tournament.

All three of this year's contests between the teams were decided by one run, with Austin Peay winning two during the series played in Cape Girardeau April 26 and 27.

Southeast coach Mark Hogan expects much of the same when the squads square off at 6:30 p.m. at Brooks Stadium in Paducah, Ky.

"We played about as close as two teams could," Hogan said. "I think we match up very well with each other."

Southeast is seeded sixth for the six-team, double-elimination event in which the champion earns an NCAA regional berth.

The Redhawks are 23-24 overall. They went 12-13 in OVC play. Third-seeded Austin Peay, the defending OVC regular-season and tournament champion, is 27-27 overall. The Govs were 14-12 in the league.

Southeast had an up-and-down regular season, largely due to an inconsistent pitching staff that ranks statistically among the worst Hogan has had during his 14 seasons with the program.

But the Redhawks still were able to continue an impressive streak as they have qualified for the OVC tournament a league-record 14 straight times.

"It's great for our program. I'm as proud of that as anything we've accomplished," said Hogan, who led Southeast to OVC tournament titles and NCAA regional berths in 1998 and 2002. "Every player I've coached here has had an opportunity to get a championship ring."

Since claiming their most recent OVC tournament crown in 2002, Southeast has not fared well in the event, going 7-10.

In the three years since the OVC returned to the current format of the top two seeds receiving first-round byes, Southeast is 3-6. Either the first or second seed has won the title the past three seasons.

The Redhawks won their opening game last year, then lost two straight. That came after a 2-2 showing in 2006 and an 0-2 performance in 2005.

Still, Southeast has fared well enough at times in the tournament that Hogan believes the Redhawks are capable of making noise.

"We've had a lot of success in the tournament over the years," Hogan said. "We're in and we've got a shot at it. It's what you play for all year.

"It's who gets hot over those three, four days."

The Redhawks have not been hot at any time this season, never winning more than three games in a row.

That is largely due to a pitching staff that has a 6.07 ERA, including a whopping 7.36 in OVC play.

"It's just been an up-and-down year on the mound, not what we expected," Hogan said. "We just haven't been consistent, and it's pretty much been across the board.

"It's really been a mystery to me. If I could figure that out."

Hogan knows his team's pitching will have to pick up if the Redhawks hope to have a shot at contending this week.

"If we could string some things together," he said. "If not, we'll be out in a hurry."

Although he has not had the same type of season as last year, when he ranked among the OVC's top hurlers, senior right-hander Dustin Renfrow has been Southeast's most consistent starter and will get the ball today.

Renfrow is 5-5 with a 4.96 ERA. Last year he was 5-1 with a 2.46 ERA that ranked third in the OVC and 40th nationally.

"He's capable of beating anybody," Hogan said. "He's a senior. He's experienced."

Austin Peay is expected to start its ace, sophomore left-hander Stephen Huff, who is 5-5 with a 3.39 ERA that ranks seventh in the conference.

Renfrow and Huff matched up during the opener of the regular-season series.

Renfrow allowed five hits and six runs in 7 2/3 innings, although he gave up only two runs after the second inning.

Huff allowed seven hits and five runs, four earned, in 6 1/3 innings.

Austin Peay has the OVC saves leader in sophomore Daniel Tenholder. He has nailed down 11 wins, including both of the earlier victories against Southeast.

Among Austin Peay's top offensive threats are seniors Rafael Hill and Tyler Farrar.

The speedy Hill has the OVC's fourth-best batting average at .391. He is second in stolen bases with 21, having been thrown out just four times.

Farrar, hitting .270, is tied for third in the OVC with 55 runs batted in. He also is third with 18 steals in 20 attempts.

"They've got a very good team, like they always do," said Hogan, whose squad is 4-0 against the Govs in the OVC tournament since 2002. "It's an interesting matchup."

Southeast's leading hitter is sophomore Jim Klocke, seventh in the OVC at .359.

Junior Tyrell Cummings, batting .341, is second in the league in both home runs (12) and RBIs (56).

Sophomore Nick Harris is tied for third in the OVC with 10 home runs as Southeast has a league-high 58 homers.

"I think our offense and defense are good enough to win the tournament, as long as we get the pitching," Hogan said.

If Southeast wins today, it will face top-seeded, regular-season champion Jacksonville State at 6:30 p.m. Thursday.

The Gamecocks (36-19, 23-4) have won 16 straight games, the longest winning streak in the nation. They swept a three-game series from Southeast during the regular season.

A loss by the Redhawks today sends them into Thursday's 11 a.m. elimination contest.

"The way the tournament is set up with the [two] byes, the first game is so important," Hogan said. "It would have to be a miracle tournament for somebody to come through after losing in the first round."

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