Bats are taking the lead, but arms are not following

Saturday, May 16, 2009
Jim Klocke hits a homer over the right-field fence during the first game.

Southeast Missouri State's explosive offense helped mask the Redhawks baseball team's lack of pitching depth earlier in the season.

But no lead has been safe for the Redhawks over the last seven Ohio Valley Conference games.

What about 8-2 after two innings? Nope.

Maybe 10-0 after 3 1/2 innings? Nope.

The offense has staked the team to early leads in recent games, but opponents have rallied against Southeast's pitching staff.

"We have to execute what we've been practicing all week," Southeast reliever John Salazar said. "We just had a hiccup in the last couple weeks. I know we'll get it together."

Before the second game of Friday's doubleheader against Morehead State, the Redhawks had scored at least 10 runs in four consecutive OVC games, but lost three of them. Southeast's explosive batters have plated 62 runs in their last seven games, an average of 8.9 runs a game, but went just 1-6.

"It's just hard to believe," Southeast coach Mark Hogan said. "I've never seen anything like that in baseball in my career. I've just never seen so many offensive players up and down everybody's lineup. This definitely is not a pitching league right now."

Friday's two losses to Morehead State hurt a little more because it erased any chance the Redhawks had at grabbing the No. 2 seed and the first-round bye in the OVC tournament. That means the Redhawks will need to win a minimum of four games to capture the tournament and get the automatic berth in the NCAA tournament.

"It's definitely better to have three games, but I think we'll be all right with four games," Salazar said about seeing the first-round bye slip away. "We'll just use what we have when we get there."

The Redhawks' 6.68 ERA in conference games entering this weekend's series against Morehead State ranked sixth. Hogan said his pitchers haven't executed.

"I don't think it's a lack of effort," he said. "I just think we're making bad pitches. The ball's up in the zone, we're getting behind guys and a lot of hitters' counts. If I had a suggestion, I'd say obviously try to keep the ball down and pump strikes in there and then you can expand. It's hard to do anything once you get behind. You pretty much got to come in. Guys are just teeing off on 2-0 and 2-1 pitches."

Southeast's pitchers will need to heed their coach's advice if the Redhawks are going to stick around at the OVC tournament in Paducah, Ky. The Redhawks had some pitchers deliver exceptional performances in last year's tournament, helping the team advance to the championship round.

There was Lance Rhodes allowing two runs over 7 1/3 innings against Tennessee Tech after James Leigh started and only last two-thirds of an inning. And let's not forget Josh Syberg giving up three runs over six innings as the Redhawks knocked off Jacksonville State to reach the championship round. Even Josh Manning did his part, throwing 3 2/3 scoreless innings in Southeast's first game against Jacksonville State.

Southeast needs a couple of pitchers to deliver similar performances at this year's tournament. And if Southeast can make a run like it did last year, it will ease the frustration of the squandered leads and missed chances.

"It's time for teams to step up, and the teams that go over there and play well, keep the ball down, keep it in the ballpark have a chance to win," Hogan said of the tournament. "I believe everybody that's going to be there is going to have teams that can score some runs. It will probably come down to whoever neutralizes a couple of the other team's assets."

Kevin Winters Morriss is sports editor of the Southeast Missourian. You can reach him at: kmorriss@semissourian.com.;

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