Southeast won a dramatic opener but was shut out in the nightcap

Sunday, May 8, 2005

As most Ohio Valley Conference doubleheaders have been for Southeast Missouri State this season, Saturday's was again bittersweet.

The Redhawks posted a dramatic 8-7 victory in the nine-inning opener, but visiting Morehead State earned a split with a 3-0 triumph in the seven-inning nightcap.

So the Redhawks, entering today's 1 p.m. series finale at Capaha Field, continue spinning their wheels in their attempt to earn a spot in the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament.

Southeast (17-28, 8-12) entered the weekend series tied for sixth, but they emerged from Saturday in a seventh-place tie. The top six finishers in the 10-team league qualify for the postseason tournament -- an event the Redhawks have never missed since coach Mark Hogan took over the program in 1995.

"It just continues to be really frustrating for us," said Hogan, whose squad has seven OVC games remaining. "We got maybe our biggest win of the year in game one, to come back like that was tremendous, but we just can't capitalize."

On the other hand, the Eagles (26-20, 14-5) continue to capitalize on being the OVC's surprise team. After being picked to finish dead last by a vote of the league's coaches, MSU remains in first place.

"I think that did motivate us some," Eagles second baseman Lance Seasor said of the preseason poll. "The majority of us are seniors, and we got tired of losing the last three years."

The Redhawks, who had swept just one of their first six OVC doubleheaders, entered Saturday's games believing they sorely needed a sweep.

That didn't look very promising when MSU jumped on Southeast freshman right-hander Joey Evans for four first-inning runs in the opener. It looked even worse when the Eagles grabbed a 5-0 lead in the fifth.

But the Redhawks staged a major rally, finally going ahead 7-6 in the seventh on the second of Freddy Lopez's two home runs, a three-run shot to the opposite field in left.

Lopez, a senior who tied for the team home-run lead last year with eight, had not homered through the first 43 games of this season before connecting twice.

"It felt good to finally get the monkey off my back," Lopez said.

MSU tied it in the eighth on Paul Rhodes' second homer of the game, a solo shot that was his OVC-leading 14th home run of the season.

The Redhawks then posted one of their more dramatic wins this year with a two-out uprising in the ninth. Jordan Payne walked and went to third on Bo Jenkins' hit-and-run single. Eric Horstman then singled to center to plate Payne with the game-ending run.

Southeast had nine hits, led by Brent Lawson with three, including his third homer of the season. Lopez had four RBIs with his two homers, while Horstman added two hits and three RBIs.

Seasor had three of the Eagles' 11 hits, 10 coming off Evans, who was charged with all seven runs in eight innings. Ryan Forsyth (3-3) notched the victory as he worked a scoreless ninth.

"The way we won that game, we really thought that would give us a lot of momentum for the second game," said Lopez.

Second-game setback

But the momentum was short-lived. MSU jumped on Southeast starter Jamie McAlister for three runs in the first three innings and, even though McAlister was strong the rest of the way, the Redhawks could do little against Shane Lucci.

Lucci, a right-hander who had pitched much better than his 2-4 record entering the game suggested -- he was sixth in the OVC with a 3.40 earned-run average -- allowed just five hits while striking out three and walking two.

"He's pitched great all year, but we just haven't been scoring runs for him," said Seasor, who has played summer baseball in Cape Girardeau the past two years with the Capahas. "The first game was a tough one for us, but we're a good team and we bounced back."

McAlister (2-6), who has also pitched in his share of tough luck this year, allowed the OVC's highest-scoring team just three runs and seven hits. He struck out five and walked none.

"To give up only three runs on this level, you should win the game," Hogan said. "McAlister pitched well, but Lucci did a great job. We just didn't do much offensively against him."

Horstman, after extending his hitting streak to 14 games in the opener, pushed it to 15 with a second-game hit.

On the down side, shortstop Ernie Bracamonte suffered a pulled hamstring late in the opener and could not go in the nightcap after he had started 101 straight games. Hogan is worried that Bracamonte could be lost for the rest of the season.

"It didn't look real good, but we'll have to see," Hogan said.

Although Southeast trails sixth-place Samford by just one game, the Bulldogs won an earlier series against the Redhawks to own the potential tie-breaker, meaning Southeast is realistically two games out of the sixth and final OVC Tournament berth.

Which makes today's game all the more important as Southeast shoots for just its second OVC series win of the season.

"Mathematically it's not a must win," Hogan said. "But realistically, we have to win. We have to quit dropping two out of three."

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