Redhawks face key series against front-running Eagles

Saturday, May 7, 2005

Southeast Missouri State senior third baseman Eric Horstman realizes he and his teammates are probably beginning to sound like broken records -- but they still believe they are such a better team than what they have displayed this year.

The Redhawks will get another chance to prove it this weekend when they host surprising Morehead State in a three-game Ohio Valley Conference series. There will be a 1 p.m. doubleheader today and a 1 p.m. contest Sunday.

"I know we've been saying it over and over, but we just haven't played up to our capabilities most of the year," said Horstman, Southeast's leading hitter with a .335 average, although that is well off his .368 mark from last season that led the squad.

In fact, the offensive statistics from virtually all of Southeast's players are down from a year ago. Since the Redhawks returned so many key players from a team that closed 2004 by reaching the OVC Tournament finals, expectations were high.

But, with nine conference games remaining, the Redhawks (16-27, 7-11) find themselves in a three-way tie for sixth place among 10 teams. The top six finishers qualify for the OVC tournament, an event Southeast has never missed since coach Mark Hogan took over the program in 1995.

"It's been a very frustrating season," Horstman said. "But what's done is done. We can't go back and change what's happened so far.

"We still think we're a really good team, but it's getting late and we've got to start making something happen. We're staying positive and everybody is working hard. We still think if we can get there [to the OVC Tournament], we can do some damage."

The Redhawks, who have won just one of their six OVC series so far -- that was with a three-game home sweep of Eastern Illinois on April 23 and 24 -- will have their work cut out for them this weekend against Morehead State, which has surprised just about everybody with its success.

In a preseason poll based on voting by the OVC's coaches, the Eagles were picked to finish dead last. Instead, they lead the league with a 13-4 record, and they own a 25-19 overall mark.

"They've really had a good season so far. They're the surprise of the league, no doubt about it," Hogan said. "Obviously a lot of people didn't know what they were talking about with the predictions."

The Eagles have thrived with a combination of a powerful offense and solid pitching, particularly at the top of their rotation.

Morehead State is third in the OVC with a .305 batting average, and the Eagles' 56 home runs are more than double of what any other team in the league has compiled, although they play their home games on a quirky field that is conducive to homers to various parts of the park. The Eagles also have a league-high 117 doubles and lead the way in runs scored with 7.6 per game.

All nine Morehead State regulars are hitting at least .268, led by senior second baseman Lance Seasor (.367) and senior first baseman Bryan Ingram (.364), who rank fifth and sixth in the OVC in batting average.

Seasor, who will be familiar with Capaha Field after playing for the Capahas the past two summers, has 12 homers, 12 doubles and 39 runs batted in. Ingram has 12 homers, 16 doubles and 50 RBIs.

The Eagles receive more power from sophomore catcher Donald Cheney (.326, 10 homers, 46 RBIs) and junior designated hitter Paul Rhodes (.291, 12 homers, 34 RBIs).

Seasor, Ingram and Rhodes are tied for the OVC home run lead. Seasor is first in runs scored (49), while Ingram leads in RBIs and doubles.

A big difference for the Eagles this year has been a solid pitching staff whose 4.95 earned-run average is fourth in the conference.

Morehead State's top two starters are senior right-hander Adrian Duran, who has a 7-4 record and is fourth in the league with a 3.08 ERA; and junior right-hander Shane Lucci, who is sixth in ERA at 3.40 despite having just a 2-4 record.

The Eagles' other likely starter this weekend is senior right-hander Lance Johnston (5-2, 6.96), while a major weapon is junior right-handed closer Dan Klausmeier (4-0, four saves, 2.20).

"They've got an impressive team, and we'll have our hands full," Hogan said. "It's about as big a series as it gets for this time of the year. We're used to playing for first or second, but right now we're fighting for survival, but the guys are excited about the weekend."

Southeast has struggled offensively much of the season, batting just .267 after hitting .301 last year, and averaging just 4.5 runs per game after averaging 6.4 in 2004. The Redhawks are seventh in the OVC in hitting and have scored the second-fewest runs (195) in the league.

Horstman, senior center fielder Frankie Montiel (.325) and senior shortstop Ernie Bracamonte (.315) are the only Redhawks hitting above .300, but all three batted better than .350 last season.

On the mound, the Redhawks' 5.20 ERA is fifth in the OVC. Defensively, their .965 fielding percentage leads the conference, as Southeast has committed a league-low 55 errors. The Eagles have made 68 errors to rank fourth in the league with a .958 fielding percentage.

Likely starters for the Redhawks this weekend are freshman right-hander Joey Evans (6-4, 2.91), junior right-hander Jamie McAlister (2-5, 4.40) and junior left-hander Derek Herbig (3-2, 4.82). Evans is third in the OVC in ERA.

"It's must win for us this weekend," Horstman said. "We have to take it one game at a time, but we have to win this series."

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