Redhawks sweep twin bill with Huskies

Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Southeast Missouri State baseball team had plenty of big performances Saturday.

Nobody came up with a bigger hit than Justin Wheeler.

Wheeler ripped a three-run, walk-off homer in the bottom of the seventh inning of the nightcap as host Southeast beat Northern Illinois 11-10 to sweep the doubleheader.

The Redhawks (10-5) broke things open late to win the nine-inning opener 15-5, giving them the first three of the four-game set that concludes at 1 p.m. today.

"We definitely wanted to get the sweep," Wheeler said.

Wheeler, a senior left fielder, made sure it happened.

With Southeast trailing 10-8 in the seven-inning finale, senior right fielder Tyrell Cummings led off the bottom of the seventh with a walk.

Sophomore third baseman Trenton Moses from Advance singled to bring up Wheeler, who had homered in the opener.

NIU reliever Zach Oates -- who shut out Southeast over the previous three innings -- fell behind Wheeler three balls and one strike.

Wheeler assumed a fastball was coming next. He was correct and crushed it well over the left-center field wall near the 380-foot mark.

"He gave it to me right down the middle and I just turned on it," said Wheeler, whose five homers are second on the squad.

Wheeler was mobbed by his teammates upon reaching home plate. He said he was glad to escape the crush relatively intact.

"They were punching me, hitting me," he said. "My head hurts."

Not that Wheeler minded.

"It was an unbelievable feeling," he said of his game-winning blast that gave him five RBIs on the day.

Junior left-hander Josh Syberg had to work some relief magic to keep the Redhawks within 10-8 and give Wheeler a chance to win the game.

Syberg pitched the final two innings to get the victory and improve to 3-1 -- he leads the Redhawks in wins -- although he had been struggling.

NIU (4-12) put runners on first and third with nobody out in the sixth, but Syberg struck out the next three batters.

In the seventh, the Huskies loaded the bases with one out, but Syberg got out of that jam via a double play.

"He's a battler," senior second baseman Tony Spencer.

The same could be said of Spencer, a 5-foot-8, 160-pound sparkplug who is off to a great start this year.

Spencer went 7-for-9 with two doubles, including 5-for-6 in the opener. His average is up to .455, tops on the squad among full-time players. He also leads the Redhawks with nine stolen bases as he entered the day leading the Ohio Valley Conference in that category.

"I'm pretty locked in right now," said Spencer, who batted .265 last year after transferring from junior college.

Said Southeast coach Mark Hogan: "Tony is really hot. He does so much for our club. It's exciting to see."

Quite a few other Southeast players had big offensive days as the Redhawks banged out 32 hits. Eleven went for extra bases, including three homers, as Southeast raised its team average to a robust .330.

Junior catcher Jim Klocke went 5-for-8 while senior first baseman Matt Wagner got his team-leading seventh homer.

Cummings, the only Southeast player to hit safely in all 15 games, went 4-for-7 with five RBIs.

Moses was 4-for-6 with two doubles.

Another local product, freshman Kody Campbell from Oran, was 4-for-6, including a double.

Campbell, the DH in all three games of the series, is 8-for-17 (.471) with five RBIs.

"He's got a great eye at the plate," Hogan said. "We felt real good about him when he signed with us."

Southeast trailed 4-1 after four innings of the opener, but put up 14 runs over its final four at-bats, including 11 in the seventh and eighth innings.

Cummings' first career triple in a five-run seventh brought in two runs and broke a 4-4 tie. The Redhawks piled up a six-run eighth to break things wide open.

Senior left-hander James Leigh, Southeast's best starter so far this season, pitched six solid innings in the opener but did not factor in the decision.

Leigh, 2-0 with a 2.42 ERA, allowed four runs on seven hits, with five strikeouts and one walk. Two of the runs he allowed came in on a bloop single.

"I thought James pitched very well," Hogan said.

Senior Daniel Schuh was strong in relief in the nightcap to help keep Southeast in the game after NIU led 6-0 after 1 1/2 innings. Schuh struck out five in 2 2/3 innings, giving up two runs on two hits.

"Daniel gave us a lift out of the bullpen, and then Josh did a really nice job," Hogan said.

NIU went ahead 6-0 by knocking out sophomore Brad LaBruyere, a Central product, in the second inning.

Southeast exploded with an eight-run bottom of the second, but NIU regained the lead before the Redhawks' last-inning rally.

"We had a lot of guys stand out," Hogan said. "Hats off to our guys for a super day."

Jordin Hood homered and had two doubles to lead NIU, which finished with 23 hits.

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