Redhawks fanned on a great opportunity

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

It isn't fair to say this was a bad season for the Southeast Missouri State baseball team.

The Redhawks finished with a winning record overall and in the Ohio Valley Conference, although just barely on both counts.

But it is fair to say this was a disappointing season for the Redhawks, who fell well short of the expectations that those within the program harbored.

Armed with a hard-hitting, power-packed lineup, 15th-year coach Mark Hogan firmly believed this group could match the stellar accomplishments posted by some of his previous top clubs that included two NCAA tournament appearances.

Things started off well enough for the Redhawks when they opened the season by winning two of three games at nationally ranked Alabama. The series seemed to indicate that Southeast's major expectations were warranted.

The Redhawks did nothing to diminish those expectations when they started OVC play 7-0.

Southeast was 11-4 well past the halfway point of the conference schedule when league-leading Eastern Illinois -- just percentage points ahead of the Redhawks -- came to town for a first-place OVC showdown.

The Redhawks were swept in the May 2 doubleheader by identical 8-7 scores, then had the May 3 game rained out.

That started a season-ending swoon for the Redhawks that saw them lose nine of their last 10 games, including their final six.

The end result was a 26-25 overall record, a 12-11 OVC mark and a two-and-out performance in last week's OVC tournament.

Southeast's 2008 squad suffered through an up-and-down, 26-26 season largely because of a 5.92 ERA that marked the Redhawks' worst under Hogan.

Hogan figured that, if the Redhawks could simply get respectable pitching and improve just a bit on last year's mound numbers, they would be primed for a big campaign.

Instead, the pitching was even worse as the Redhawks' 6.76 ERA eclipsed last year's figure that had served as Hogan's low-water mark.

Hogan, along with Southeast fans, probably can't help but think that the Redhawks missed out on an opportunity that does not come along too often. The chances for such a season don't appear nearly as good in 2010.

That's because Southeast loses eight seniors who represented many of the team's top players and several of the better performers in program history.

The Redhawks will return some solid talent next season -- especially if star catcher Jim Klocke doesn't turn pro -- but nothing across the board like what they had the past two years.

Expectations won't be nearly as high for the Redhawks a year from now and Hogan acknowledges that the campaign figures to be a challenging one.

It will be interesting to see what type of club Southeast fields in 2010.

It was a wacky OVC baseball tournament that concluded Saturday in Paducah, Ky.

The top two seeds -- No. 1 Eastern Illinois and No. 2 Murray State, who earned first-round byes -- didn't make it to the championshp round of the six-team event.

That honor went to No. 5 Tennessee Tech and No. 6 Jacksonville State, marking the first title matchup between the bottom two seeds.

Tech emerged as champion, going through the tournament without a loss -- including 10-inning wins over JSU in the Eagles' final two games -- to earn the OVC's automatic NCAA berth.

The Eagles became the first No. 5 seed to win the OVC tournament.

It's official -- Jacksonville State will not be eligible to win the 2009 OVC football championship, which results in an automatic FCS playoff berth.

It recently was announced that JSU football was one of three sports programs nationwide facing an unprecedented ban from postseason play for its repeated shortcomings under the NCAA's Academic Progress Rate formula.

The university filed a penalty waiver request, but OVC assistant commissioner Kyle Schwartz said that the waiver has been denied.

Schwartz said that, under OVC bylaws, JSU still will play a full conference schedule, with the games counting on everyone's record, but the Gamecocks will be ineligible for the title.

Regardless of how the Gamecocks fare -- led by star quarterback Ryan Perrilloux, they would have been among the OVC favorites this year -- Schwartz said they will be listed at the bottom of the conference standings each week.

If JSU does finish with the OVC's best record, then the squad with the next-best record will be proclaimed conference champion and receive the league's automatic playoff spot.

The Jacksonville State softball team made history this year, and also helped make history for the OVC.

JSU became the first OVC softball squad to earn an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament, giving the conference two NCAA berths for the first time.

And once in the field, the Gamecocks won the school's first Division I regional title in any sport by capturing the Knoxville Regional.

But the Gamecocks' magical ride ended with a thud over the weekend as they suffered a pair of 9-0, five-inning losses to host Alabama in the Super Regional.

Not only did the Gamecocks fall twice, they were no-hit in both games by Kelsi Dunne. She became the first player to throw back-to-back no-hitters in NCAA postseason play.

The Plaza Tire Capahas open another season Sunday when they host the Charleston Riverdogs in a 5 p.m. first pitch.

Jess Bolen enters his 43rd season as manager with a 1,338-348 record.

I'll have a season preview of the team later this week.

Marty Mishow is a sports writer for the Southeast Missourian.

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