Redhawks finished strong to extend Hogan's streak of tourney appearances

Sunday, May 22, 2005

After being swept in a three-game series at Eastern Kentucky that ended on May 1, Southeast Missouri State limped back to Cape Girardeau with a 7-11 Ohio Valley Conference record and its hopes of qualifying for the OVC Tournament fading fast.

But three weeks later, the Redhawks find themselves with a 15-12 conference mark, thanks to a late-season rush that saw them win eight of their last nine league games, including the past seven in a row.

And the Redhawks also find themselves in the OVC tournament for the 11th time in Mark Hogan's 11 years as their coach. Southeast finished tied for fourth in the 10-team league, and will be the fifth seed for the six-team, double-elimination event that begins Wednesday in Paducah, Ky.

The Redhawks will play fourth-seeded Murray State -- both teams had the same OVC record, although the Thoroughbreds won two of the three regular-season meetings to earn the tie-breaker -- at 2:30 p.m. Wednesday at Brooks Stadium.

"All the credit goes to the players and my staff," Hogan said following Saturday's 4-3 win over visiting Tennessee-Martin in the regular-season finale. "When we were 4-8, we could have gone south. A lot of teams would have. But we finished 11-4 in the conference, under a lot of pressure, adverse situations.

"After the Eastern Kentucky series, all three games were really close [Southeast lost two one-run decisions and a two-run affair], and it was a long bus ride home. But we bounced back. I can't say enough about the character of the guys."

Narrow defeats have marked much of the Redhawks' season, as they have suffered eight one-run losses and 17 defeats by three runs or less. Those tough setbacks have led to a 24-30 overall record and what will likely be only Southeast's second losing mark under Hogan.

"We're disappointed overall with the numbers. We had a lot higher hopes for the season," Hogan said.

The Redhawks were picked second in the OVC's preseason poll after returning most of the key players from last year's squad that reached the conference tournament championship game.

"It just shows the quality and character of the guys on this ballclub to not let the overall disappointment of the season bring us down at the end," Hogan said. "We battled and battled, and the guys feel good about where we're at.

"Our goal was to get back to the tournament and we've done that. Unless you're the one or two seed [that receive a first-round bye], it doesn't really matter what seed you are. We're just excited about the opportunity."

And the Redhawks hope to make the most of it.

"We're starting to play our best ball, and you have to have that going into the tournament," senior Ernie Bracamonte said. "We have a lot of confidence."

Added senior Eric Horstman: "We have a lot of momentum going now. We feel really good going into the tournament."

* No. 3 seed Morehead State and No. 6 Eastern Kentucky play in Wednesday's other first-round tournament game. Wednesday's losers square off Thursday in an elimination contest, while Wednesday's winners advance to Thursday's semifinals against No. 1 Jacksonville State and No. 2 Austin Peay. The championship is Saturday.

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