Redhawks open OVC schedule at Muuray St.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Southeast Missouri State did not have quite the pre-league showing it wanted, but that will matter very little starting today as Ohio Valley Conference play begins.

The Redhawks (7-11) visit Murray State (11-10) for a three-game series, featuring a noon doubleheader today and 1 p.m. single contest Saturday. OVC series are normally held Saturday-Sunday, but the league is going Friday-Saturday this week because of Easter.

"We're excited," Southeast coach Mark Hogan said. "The real season starts [today]."

While Hogan believes the Redhawks could have a bit better record right now, he knew it would be difficult with a tough early schedule.

In addition to losing three games at second-ranked Tulane and two games at seventh-ranked Mississippi, Southeast also dropped five of six against Bradley and Central Michigan. Those four teams have a combined 60-17 record, while the Redhawks' opponents as a whole had a collective 105-75 mark prior to Thursday.

"Tulane and Mississippi are two of the best teams in the nation, and Bradley and Central Michigan are both having excellent seasons," Hogan said. "We've really played a tough schedule, and that grinds on you.

"Really, I think we've been playing pretty well, and hopefully playing that type of schedule will help us get ready for the OVC."

Hogan will begin to find out if the rugged slate pays off against an improved Murray State squad that went just 17-35 last year in coach Rob McDonald's first season.

Although the Thorougbreds have lost six of seven after a strong start -- they snapped a six-game losing streak by rallying past Memphis 10-9 Wednesday -- they own a win over Missouri and a two-game sweep of the same Bradley club that swept Southeast in a three-game series.

Hogan expects quite a battle this weekend, despite Murray State being picked tied for seventh in the OVC's preseason poll.

"They've proven early this year they can beat good clubs. It's down there and it should be really interesting," said Hogan, whose squad was the preseason No. 2 pick among 10 squads based on voting by the league's coaches. "Nothing is for sure in our league. Everything seems to be bunched up pretty tight, as usual."

Despite Southeast's sub-par record, Hogan said nothing he has seen suggests that the Redhawks -- loaded with experienced returning players and quite a few newcomers who have made an impact -- won't contend for the OVC title.

"I do feel confident because I feel like we've got some tested players, people who have been through it, and a good complement of new players who have helped us," he said. "I still feel really good about this ballclub, but you have to put up the wins."

Hogan plans to start junior left-hander Derek Herbig (1-3, 3.81 earned-run average) in today's nine-inning opener, with senior right-hander Ryan Forsyth (2-2, 5.24) going in the seven-inning second game. Junior right-hander Andy Johnson (0-1, 3.12) will work Saturday's nine-inning series finale.

"We've got all our arms ready to go this weekend," Hogan said.

Murray State's top starting pitchers have been senior right-hander Craig Kraus (4-1, 2.14) and junior left-hander Jake Ociesa (2-1, 3.32).

Although the series will represent just three of Southeast's 27 scheduled OVC games, Hogan considers it important for the Redhawks to start off strong.

"It would be great to win two out of three, or even sweep," Hogan said. "We need to get off to a good start, not just for the OVC, but for our record and the well-being of the club in general."

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