Redhawks press on

Saturday, May 24, 2008

PADUCAH, Ky. — The Southeast Missouri State baseball team showed no ill effects from Thursday's gut-wrenching defeat.

Southeast bounced back Friday afternoon to beat Tennessee Tech 8-4 and remain alive in the Ohio Valley Conference tournament.

"We're very resilient," Southeast's Matt Wulfers said. "We haven't really shown it that much this year, but it's good to see out of this team."

Less than 24 hours earlier, the Redhawks were dropped into the losers bracket of the six-team, double-elimination event by Jacksonville State.

The sixth-seeded Redhawks were on the verge of the tournament's biggest upset when the top-seeded Gamecocks scored three runs in the bottom of the ninth inning to win 7-6.

That made a potential tournament title and NCAA regional berth much more difficult to attain for Southeast, which would have been only two victories away from pulling it off.

Instead of advancing to Friday night's winners bracket final, the Redhawks faced the task of winning four consecutive elimination games.

"It was real tough [to shake off the loss]," Southeast's Matt Wagner said. "But it shows what kind of character we have. We really scrambled back."

Southeast took care of one-fourth of what they need to do by eliminating fifth-seeded Tennessee Tech, which earlier in the day upset second-seeded Samford to send the Bulldogs home.

"We just have to take it one game at a time," Wulfers said. "That's all we can do in our situation."

The Redhawks (25-25) are one of three squads remaining in the tournament. At noon today they'll get a rematch with Jacksonville State in the losers bracket final.

If the Redhawks win, they'll take on take on fourth-seeded Eastern Illinois in the championship round at 3:30 p.m. Eastern Illinois upset Jacksonville State 10-6 in the winners bracket final, ending the Gamecocks' 17-game winning streak.

Another victory would force one final contest for the title at noon Sunday.

"It's going to be tough, but we've just got to keep playing and keep staying alive," Wagner said.

Southeast fell behind Tech (35-23-1) 2-0 in the top of the first inning as James Leigh was knocked out early.

Leigh retired the first two batters, then allowed three hits and a walk. Hogan pulled Leigh with runners on first and third.

Lance Rhodes issued a walk to load the bases, but escaped by picking a runner off first base.

Rhodes went on to pitch a season-high 7 1/3 innings to get the win.

"What a job Lance did," Southeast coach Mark Hogan said.

After being retired in order in the first two innings by Thomas Gray, Southeast's offense finally got going.

The Redhawks tied it with a two-run third that featured four singles, including RBI hits by Nick Harris and Zak Blemker, the latter on a squeeze play.

Tyrell Cummings' RBI ground out in the fourth put Southeast ahead 3-2.

A three-run fifth featured Wagner's two-run double and Wulfers' RBI double to make it 6-2. Southeast added two more in the seventh and withstood Tech's two-run ninth.

"I think we were a little sluggish early after last night, but we finally got going," said Wagner, who leads Southeast with six RBIs in three tournament games, along with five hits in 13 at-bats.

Southeast had 11 hits, including Wagner's two doubles. Wulfers added two hits.

Wulfers, who has started the past two games as the designated hitter, is 5-for-7 in the tourney. He has two doubles.

"I feel real good at the plate," said Wulfers, a Notre Dame High School graduate.

The Redhawks remained errorless in the tournament and their pitching, a problem all season, has been solid with 13 runs allowed in three games.

"We're playing as good as we have all year," Hogan said.

Now the Redhawks, 2-1 in the tournament, will set their sights on two more wins today.

Hogan said Josh Syberg, a solid conference starter last year who has struggled this season, will get the ball in today's noon contest.

"Hopefully we'll play two tomorrow and get to Sunday," Wulfers said.

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