Southeast baseball will receive big test this weekend

Monday, March 30, 2009

Most people who follow Southeast Missouri State baseball thought this could be a special season for the Redhawks.

There were some highs and lows during a rugged nonconference schedule, but right now the Redhawks are rolling.

Sweeping their first two Ohio Valley Conference series has vaulted the Redhawks into first place in the OVC at 6-0, along with a solid 16-8 overall record.

That sets up this weekend's series with the squad that has been the OVC's best program since joining the league in 2004.

Jacksonville State comes to Cape Girardeau for a three-game set beginning with Saturday's 1 p.m. doubleheader.

The Gamecocks are the defending OVC regular-season champions, going 23-4 in league play last year but falling short in the conference tournament.

JSU set an OVC record for league wins in 2008 and has averaged 19 conference victories per season during its five years in the league. The Gamecocks have won two OVC regular-season titles and two tournament crowns. They are this year's preseason favorite.

More ammunition: JSU has won 14 straight OVC series and 25 of its last 28 league games.

Not only that, but the Gamecocks — 15-10 overall and 4-2 in the OVC — will bring to town one of the nation's top pitching prospects.

Senior Ben Tootle, a preseason All-American who was clocked in the upper 90s during the Cape Cod League last summer, is considered a lock to be a first-round draft pick. He's scheduled to work the nightcap of Saturday's doubleheader against Southeast's top starter, senior left-hander James Leigh, in what should be a great matchup.

And if that isn't enough, it will be Kohlfeld Distributing Day at Capaha Field Saturday, with free beverages available — not that the always boisterous student crowd for Southeast baseball games needs any more inspiration.

I'm sure the High Hill Hecklers will be out in full force.

It should be a great weekend. See you at the ballpark.

One more footnote to this weekend's Southeast baseball series:

JSU will be without one of its top players as two-time all-OVC second baseman Bert Smith, the school's all-time leader in stolen bases, recently had surgery to repair a torn labrum and will miss the remainder of the season.

Smith, a senior, is expected to receive a medical redshirt, meaning he'll be able to play next season.

I don't know that he's officially made a verbal commitment, but I've been told by a reliable source that former Vashon High School basketball star Leon Powell is headed to Southeast to play for new coach Dickey Nutt.

Powell, a 6-foot-7, 210-pound forward, recently completed his sophomore season at Indian Hills (Iowa) Community College.

Powell originally was placed at Indian Hills by former Southeast assistant Ronnie Dean with the understanding that Powell would ultimately end up with the Redhawks.

Even though Dean is no longer at Southeast, I've been told that Powell will play for the Redhawks because, among other reasons, he wants to get back close to home and also because he is good friends with Southeast's Johnny Hill, a fellow Vashon product.

Powell, who at one time in high school was receiving interest from major programs, reportedly has been offered scholarships by Houston, Ohio and Murray State.

Powell recently was named to the all-region second team after averaging 11.5 points per game this season for Indian Hills, a perennial national junior college power that went 30-3. Powell also made the all-region second team as a freshman.

Powell made an official visit to Southeast over the weekend with several other prospects.

Also reportedly considering Southeast is James Washington, Powell's sophomore teammate at Indian Hills and another Vashon product.

Washington, a 5-10 point guard who played his freshman season at Western Illinois before transferring to Indian Hills, also made the all-region second team this year.

Nutt has been hitting the recruiting trail hard since being announced as Southeast's coach March 12, and maybe those efforts will pay off with a solid recruiting class that will help the Redhawks be a bit better next season than most people expect.

Of course, Nutt is hot after Sikeston senior forward Michael Porter, who would be quite an addition to his first crop of recruits at Southeast.

I'm not sure what Nutt's chances of landing Porter are, but it would be quite a coup if Porter signs with the Redhawks.

It was announced last week that Porter had narrowed his college choices to Missouri State, Southeast, Arkansas State and Morehead State.

While not as highly rated a college prospect as Porter, it would also be a nice local catch if Nutt landed Scott County Central senior guard Drew Thomas, who is not drawing nearly as much recruiting interest as Porter.

The spring signing period begins April 15. Nutt can't comment on prospective recruits until they sign letters of intent.

Stay tuned.

Nutt is still putting together his first coaching staff, but I've been told that nobody on Southeast's most recent staff was retained, which isn't surprising. All Southeast assistants are on one-year contracts that expire April 31.

Zac Roman, Rodney Hamilton and Tommy Suitts are highly capable, but a new coach generally wants to work with people he is somewhat familiar with.

Here's wishing Roman, Hamilton and Suitts — all classy guys — the best in their future endeavors.

Marty Mishow is a sports writer for the Southeast Missourian.

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