Rhodes provides relief with season-saving stint

Saturday, May 24, 2008

PADUCAH, Ky. — Lance Rhodes got more than he could have bargained for Friday.

He came through big-time to help the Southeast Missouri State baseball team stay alive in the Ohio Valley Conference tournament.

Rhodes, a relief pitcher, was called upon in the top of the first inning after Tennessee Tech scored twice on three hits and a walk against starter James Leigh.

With Southeast facing elimination, coach Mark Hogan did not want to chance his team getting into any more of an early hole.

So Hogan replaced Leigh with Rhodes as the Eagles had runners on first and third with two outs.

Rhodes walked a batter to load the bases, but escaped the jam by picking a runner off first base.

That began a dazzling outing for Rhodes, a senior who pitched a season-high 7 1/3 innings to get the win as Southeast prevailed 8-4.

"Lance is the story of the game," teammate Matt Wulfers said. "He was huge. He's the star of the game."

Rhodes' previous longest stint this season was five innings. Everything else had been under four innings for the hurler who leads Southeast with 22 appearences, all but one in relief.

"What a great performance from a senior," Hogan said. "We needed to hold them down and get back in the game. Lance completely shut the door."

Rhodes, a Sikeston High School product who played his first two college seasons at Saint Louis University, has been Southeast's most consistent and versatile reliever.

But Rhodes had thrown only 36 innings prior to Friday. No way he could have envisioned pitching that much. And no way did he envision coming into the game so early.

"I expected to be on call today since I didn't throw in the first two [tournament] games," said Rhodes, who is 4-4. "But not necessarily that early.

"I definitely didn't expect to go that long. I was hoping maybe three or four innings. But I found a groove."

After replacing Leigh and escaping the first-inning jam, Rhodes fired off seven straight scoreless frames, allowing just four hits.

Rhodes ran out of gas in the ninth, issuing two walks and a single as Tech loaded the bases with nobody out.

Hogan finally took the ball from Rhodes. Ryan Poole got a double play — a run scored — and allowed an RBI single before closing out the victory.

Rhodes wound up being charged with the two ninth-inning runs. He allowed five hits, struck out three and walked four.

"I was a little disappointed I couldn't finish it off," Rhodes said. "But you can't take chances. Ryan came in and did a good job."

Despite pitching so long Friday, Rhodes vowed to be ready for more action as the Redhawks hope to continue climbing through the losers bracket.

"It's now or never. It's my senior year. If coach calls on me, I'll be willing to go and give it all I've got," Rhodes said.

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