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Redhawks' regular season ends on a positive note
At about 2 p.m. Saturday, with Southeast Missouri State clinging to a one-run, fourth-inning lead over Tennessee-Martin, the Redhawks learned they had clinched a berth in the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament because Murray State beat Samford.
But the Redhawks did not want any part of backing into the six-team event in Paducah, Ky.
Although it wasn't easy, Southeast made sure it earned its way to the conference tournament by completing a three-game series sweep with a 4-3 Senior Day victory at Capaha Field in the regular-season finale for both squads.
"We had heard about it [Samford losing], but we still had to concentrate," said Eric Horstman, one of 10 Southeast seniors who made their final home appearance Saturday. "We wanted to send the seniors out right."
Added senior Ernie Bracamonte: "We pretty much knew Samford had lost, but we didn't want to back in, and we were still playing for a higher seed."
The Redhawks (24-30, 15-12 OVC) finished tied for fourth with Murray State in the 10-team conference. Southeast will be the No. 5 seed for the league tournament and will play Murray State (27-29, 15-12) in a first-round game 2:30 p.m. Wednesday. The Thoroughbreds won two of the three regular-season meetings with Southeast.
"We can't wait for the tournament," Horstman said. "We've got a lot of confidence right now."
That confidence is based on a strong finish that saw Southeast win eight of its final nine OVC games, including the last seven in a row.
"I knew in the fourth or fifth inning that Murray State had beaten Samford and we were in the tournament," Southeast coach Mark Hogan said. "But it's still exciting to see the way we finished. We wanted to win it for the seniors and to keep a lot of momentum going into the tournament."
Even though UT-Martin (12-43, 6-20), which finished tied for last in the OVC, didn't have much tangible on the line in the series, the Skyhawks battled Southeast on nearly even terms all three games.
After Southeast squeezed out 6-4 and 4-2 victories in Friday's doubleheader, UT-Martin proved even tougher Saturday. The Skyhawks led 2-0 in the first inning and kept the Redhawks from feeling comfortable the rest of the way.
"They really played us tough and you have to give them a lot of credit," Hogan said. "All three games were close and could have gone either way."
Junior left-hander Derek Herbig struggled some in the first inning by allowing two runs, but he emerged as the winner with five innings to improve to 5-2. Herbig gave up six hits and three runs -- two earned -- with two strikeouts and two walks.
Senior right-hander Ryan Forsyth nailed down the contest with four shutout innings to earn a well-deserved save, his second of the season. Forsyth allowed four hits, struck out five and walked one.
"I felt good. The last three, four outings I've felt really good," Forsyth said. "We never want to lose a game, and we didn't want to back into the tournament. It's better to get in this way."
After the Redhawks tied it in the second inning, they went ahead for good in the third when senior Frankie Montiel's RBI ground out plated senior Bo Jenkins, who led off the inning with a walk.
Southeast made it 4-2 in the fourth and UT-Martin scored an unearned run in the fifth, but the Redhawks were able to hold on.
"Tennessee-Martin was tough. They never gave up," Bracamonte said.
The Redhawks were out-hit for the only time in the series, 10-7.
Bracamonte continued his successful return from a hamstring injury by going 2-for-3. He went 6-for-8 in the series. Sophomore Brent Lawson continued his late-season surge, going 2-for-4.
Horstman's bunt single in the third inning continued his two impressive streaks. He has hit safely in 24 consecutive games and has reached base safely in 46 straight games, which is believed to be the longest active streak in the nation.
Blake Turner led UT-Martin offensively by going 3-for-5, making him 6-for-12 in the series. Nick Bruner and Chris Rezabek both added two hits.
Scott Massey was impressive in a losing effort as the right-hander pitched all eight innings for the Skyhawks, allowing three earned runs. He fanned four and walked two.