The smallest Redhawk provides big spark

Tuesday, March 17, 2009
Tony Spencer slides home safely during Friday's victory against Northern Illinois.

Tony Spencer is pleased but realistic about his current status as one of the Ohio Valley Conference's top hitters.

"It's all good, until a slump comes," he said with a smile. "Baseball is a game of ups and downs. You have to ride out the good times because there's a time you'll be begging for hits."

Southeast Missouri State's senior second baseman hasn't had to beg much so far this year.

Entering tonight's contest at Missouri State in the start of a two-game series, Spencer leads Southeast full-time players with a .426 batting average that ranks sixth in the OVC.

In addition, Spencer leads the conference in stolen bases with nine -- he has been caught three times -- and is tied for fifth in runs scored with 19, which ranks second on the team.

Southeast second baseman Tony Spencer covers second base on a steal attempt by a St. Catharine runner earlier this month at Capaha Field.

Not bad for Southeast's smallest player, who is listed at 5 foot 8 and 160 pounds -- he acknowledges he's probably closer to 5-7 -- and, by his own admission, has been doubted at most stages of his baseball career.

"I had a summer coach who said I'm not a guy you can watch one time and really be wowed," Spencer said. "You have to watch me a lot."

Southeast coach Mark Hogan has watched Spencer enough over the last two years to not be surprised by his success on the Division I level.

"He's totally earned what's happened to him. He's really a hard-working guy," Hogan said. "He's a great guy on and off the field.

"He was voted one of our [three] captains, so it shows you what the other guys think about him. He's a leader. We talk a lot about the scheme of things. He's a coach's dream."

Southeast Missouri State senior Tony Spencer bunts for a single during a recent game at Capaha Field. While being the shortest player on the team, Spencer leads the Redhawks' starters with a .426 batting average.

Not a big recruit

Spencer was not among Southeast's touted recruits last year after finishing up at Mineral Area College in Park Hills, Mo.

In fact, Spencer might not have gotten a shot to play for the Redhawks had his coach at Vianney High School in suburban St. Louis -- former Southeast standout Steve Bieser -- not been so high on him.

During Spencer's productive junior college career -- he batted .374 as a sophomore and .350 as a freshman -- Bieser called Hogan to make a pitch for his former player.

Hogan recalled that Bieser lauded Spencer's intangibles and all-around game.

Tony Spencer grounds out Tuesday, February 24, 2009, in the Redhawks home opener at Capaha Field.

Hogan and his staff liked enough of what they saw and signed Spencer, who did not begin his rookie season at Southeast as a starter.

But shortstop Nick Harris suffered a knee injury in the 2008 opener and Spencer took his place for the next several weeks.

Spencer never came out of the lineup, going to second base after Harris returned, and then switching back to shortstop when Harris was moved to center field.

While not spectacular offensively as a junior, Spencer was solid with a .265 average -- his .400 on-base percentage was fourth on the squad -- and a team-leading 15 stolen bases in 21 attempts.

Spencer has started all 16 games at second base this season. He began the year hitting toward the bottom of the lineup, but has been in the leadoff spot the past eight games.

St. Catharine runner Philip Dean steals second as Tony Spencer awaits a throw Wednesday afternoon, March 4, 2009, at Capaha Field.

"Whatever I can do to help the team," Spencer said.

Changes at the plate

Spencer said a change in his stance is probably a reason for his offensive surge so far this season.

"Last year I had a little more of an open stance and I didn't think I was getting enough behind it," he said. "I went back to what I did in junior college, more of a rocking stance where I'm really stepping into it."

Spencer said he has also been more aggressive at the plate, which may explain why he has walked only five times compared to 27 bases on balls in 2008.

Whatever Spencer is doing, it's working. He is coming off a four-game weekend series against Northern Illinois that saw him go 9-for-19 with three doubles and five RBIs. He was 7-for-9 in Saturday's doubleheader, including 5-for-6 in the opener.

"He's really been swinging the bat well," Hogan said.

Spencer hit the first home run and triple of his Southeast career this season, but he realizes power is not his game.

"I know I'm a table setter," said Spencer, who has three doubles and 10 RBIs, after getting just six doubles and 14 RBIs all of last season. "I just try to be consistent. I don't try to do anything special."

On a high-powered offensive club loaded with big hitters, Spencer has been very special so far.

Redhawks vs. Bears

Southeast (10-6) and Missouri State (6-10) will square off at 6:30 p.m. today and 3 p.m. Wednesday in both teams' final tuneups before opening conference play this weekend.

The Bears, the preseason Missouri Valley Conference favorites, got off to a slow start this year but took two of three over the weekend at 2007 national champion Oregon State, ranked 23rd at the time.

Missouri State went 40-17 overall and a second-place 18-6 in the MVC last season.

"They've got a great program," Hogan said. "They'll be ready to go. It should be really interesting."

Playing for the Bears is freshman Ryan Modglin from Scott City.

Modglin has started two games on the mound and one game at DH, although he has not seen any action in the Bears' past seven contests.

Modglin has an 0-1 pitching record and 9.00 ERA, having allowed four earned runs and six hits in just four innings. At the plate he is 0-for-5.

Missouri State leads the all-time series with Southeast 58-36 and the Bears have won seven of the last eight meetings. The squads split two games last season in Cape Girardeau.

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