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Sizzling offenses to square off at Capaha
The Southeast Missouri State baseball team has one more chance to make a strong impression at home this weekend.
After that it's on to a 10-game road trip for the Redhawks.
But before the Redhawks begin thinking about that rugged stretch, they host defending Ohio Valley Conference tournament champion Tennessee Tech in a 1 p.m. doubleheader Saturday and a 1 p.m. contest Sunday.
That will conclude a stretch in which the Redhawks will have played 17 of 20 games at Capaha Field, where they are 15-2 so far.
"It would be nice to get this series and leave a good taste in our mouth before we go out on the road," junior right fielder Louie Haseltine said.
Southeast suffered just its second home loss of the season Tuesday, a 16-11 nonconference decision against SIU-Carbondale.
The Redhawks, who had won four straight and 12 of 13, are ready to begin another streak.
"We still feel good," junior infielder Casey Jones said. "We'll try to get the sweep before we go on the road."
Southeast's most recent conference series resulted in a three-game sweep of Eastern Kentucky at home last weekend, boosting the Redhawks (18-10, 5-1) into a first-place OVC tie.
In Tech (13-17, 0-3), the Redhawks will face a squad that has played just one OVC series so far, being swept at Jacksonville State last weekend.
Southeast coach Mark Hogan expects to see a talented and dangerous bunch of Eagles who want to avoid a big hole early in the OVC race. Tech is the only OVC team without a conference victory.
"They're not going to be happy after losing their first three conference games," Hogan said. "They're a dangerous club. They're going to be good."
Tech was picked third in the OVC preseason poll after last year's surprising run to the tournament title as the No. 5 seed.
Southeast, expected to take a dip after graduating many of its top players from 2009, was picked to finish seventh in the nine-team conference.
"They were picked ahead of us, like just about everybody else," Hogan said. "It's another chance to keep proving ourselves."
This weekend's series will feature some of the top offensive talent in the OVC.
Southeast leads the league and ranks sixth nationally with a .357 batting average. Tech isn't far behind at .331, third-best in the OVC.
The Redhawks have the OVC's top hitter in Jones, a junior college transfer batting .462.
Fellow juco transfer Michael Adamson ranks sixth in the league at .418. The left fielder leads the conference in doubles with 16.
Haseltine, batting .333, has homered in eight of the last 10 games and is tied for fourth in the OVC with 10 home runs.
Tech features the OVC's premier slugger in junior DH A.J. Kirby-Jones, who tied a school record with 20 homers last season and was the MVP of the conference tournament.
Kirby-Jones leads the nation with 15 homers. He is second in the OVC with 46 runs batted in and seventh with a .406 average.
"The professional scouts know all about him," Hogan said. "He's a tremendous hitter and they have other very good hitters."
That includes junior center fielder Chad Oberacker, third in the league with a .436 average, second in doubles with 15 and tied for second in triples with three while leading the nation in hits with 61.
Tech also features one of the OVC's top starting pitchers in senior right-hander Lee Henry, who is just 1-3 but has a sparkling 2.73 ERA.
Adam Liberatore (3-3, 6.11) is a touted senior left-hander who was off to a dazzling start last year before suffering a season-ending injury after making just two appearances.
Rounding out the Eagles' OVC rotation is freshman right-hander Tristan Archer (2-1, 6.19).
"Henry is an outstanding pitcher and Liberatore is back," Hogan said. "We'll have our hands full."
Southeast will counter with its normal conference starting rotation of senior right-hander Kyle Gumieny (5-0, 4.89) in Saturday's nine-inning opener, junior left-hander Logan Mahon (2-1, 6.15) in the seven-inning nightcap and junior lefty Jordan Underwood (3-3, 4.72) in Sunday's nine-inning series finale.
Gumieny is tied for second in the league in wins.
In addition to leading the OVC in batting average, Southeast also is first in ERA (5.93) and fielding percentage (.961). Tech is seventh in ERA (7.43) and fourth in fielding (.958).
"This is a really important series before we go out on the road for a while," Hogan said. "We'll get their best shot. It should be an interesting series."