Redhawks show promise in .500 season
Tuesday, June 3, 2008
Despite a season that fell short of his expectations, Southeast Missouri State baseball coach Mark Hogan has high hopes for next year.
The key, said Hogan, will be to shore up a pitching staff that sprung too many leaks.
So many leaks, in fact, that the Redhawks' 5.92 earned-run average was the worst in Hogan's 14 seasons at Southeast.
That ERA ranked toward the bottom of the Ohio Valley Conference, as did the Redhawks' bloated 7.36 mark in league play.
"We were very inconsistent [on the mound]," Hogan said. "We'll take a look at that."
Without pointing fingers at individuals, Hogan believes the shaky pitching staff was the primary reason Southeast finished just 26-26 overall and a sixth-place 12-13 in the 10-team OVC.
Last year's Redhawks, with an offense not nearly as explosive, went 32-24 overall and a third-place 16-10 in the OVC. Look no further than a 4.69 ERA for the difference.
On the bright side this season, Southeast was able to extend its OVC-record streak of making the conference tournament for the 14th year in a row, which spans Hogan's entire tenure at his alma mater.
And once in the field, the Redhawks became the first No. 6 seed to reach the championship round since the event became a six-team affair in 1997.
Southeast eventually fell to Eastern Illinois in the finals.
But the way the Redhawks performed in the tournament made Hogan ponder what might have been if the pitching had been more consistent during the regular season.
Southeast's pitching was solid in the tournament, allowing less than five runs per game.
"We had two of the three pieces [offense and defense]," Hogan said of the regular season. "We saw what we could do with the third piece."
Six seniors in 2008
Southeast had just six seniors on its roster, but three of them were pitchers who saw considerable action, including No. 1 starter Dustin Renfrow and top reliever Lance Rhodes.
Hogan thinks he saw enough flashes from the underclass hurlers to anticipate considerable improvement next season.
And Hogan expects three pitchers who have already signed — along with others who might sign in the summer — to bolster the staff.
"We signed three top guns," Hogan said.
Offensively, Southeast's .292 batting average was 19 points higher than last year, and the Redhawks were among the top-hitting teams in OVC play at .312.
Southeast led the conference with 60 home runs. The Redhawks averaged 7.1 runs per game, compared to 6.4 in 2007.
Defensively, the Redhawks were among the league leaders all year with a .968 fielding percentage.
One senior starter
The Redhawks had only one senior position starter, second baseman Zak Blemker. Every other position starter is eligible to return, including Southeast's top five hitters who all batted above .300.
Southeast was led by three first-team all-OVC players in sophomore catcher Jim Klocke (.357), junior first baseman Matt Wagner (.337, 11 home runs, 57 RBIs) and junior outfielder Tyrell Cummings (.329, 12 homers, 16 doubles, 58 RBIs).
Cummings produced the fifth-best RBI season in school history, with Wagner only one notch behind.
The Redhawks held down the second through fourth spots in OVC home runs with Cummings, Wagner and sophomore shortstop/outfielder Nick Harris (10).
"I think we've got a really good group of returning players, and I'm very optimistic for next season," Hogan said.
Klocke said the way the Redhawks performed in the OVC tournament has also given the players optimism for 2009.
"I'm excited to see how next year plays out," Klocke said.
Hogan is the winningest baseball coach in Southeast history with a 413-348 record. He is also No. 5 on the OVC's all-time victory list.
Hogan has led Southeast to a pair of OVC tournament titles and NCAA regional berths — in 1998 and 2002 — but the program has had just one winning record in the past four years. That stretch includes this season's .500 mark and two losing ledgers.
However, Hogan believes Southeast has righted the ship and is closing in on getting things back to the level of success it experienced for much of the coach's tenure.
"Our recruiting has gone well. ... I believe our program is pretty much where it was," Hogan said. "With the club we have coming back, I predict we'll be picked first or second [in the OVC] next year.
"We sent out a nice signal that we'll be a force to be reckoned with."