Redhawks take 'mo' into tournament

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Last year Southeast Missouri State won seven of its final nine Ohio Valley Conference games to qualify for the OVC Tournament, then advanced all the way to the championship game before losing to Jacksonville State.

The Redhawks hope a similar late-season charge helps carry them just a bit further during this week's OVC Tournament in Paducah, Ky.

Southeast posted victories in eight of its last nine conference games -- including the past seven straight -- and vaulted the Redhawks into a fourth-place tie among 10 OVC squads.

The fifth-seeded Redhawks (24-30, 15-12 OVC) play fourth-seeded Murray State (27-29, 15-12) at 2:30 p.m. today as the six-team, double-elimination OVC Tournament begins at Brooks Stadium in Paducah, Ky. The winner earned an automatic NCAA regional berth.

"We have a lot of momentum going now, and I feel like if we can keep it up, we can end like last year, only this time hopefully win the last game," senior third baseman Eric Horstman said.

Senior Ernie Bracamonte, the Redhawks' former shortstop who has been playing first base since recently returning from a hamstring injury, also believes Southeast is primed for another strong tournament.

"It's kind of like it was last year, we started out slow but then we came on at the end," Bracamonte said. "We're starting to play our best ball, and you have to have that going into the tournament.

"We have a lot of confidence. The pitching is starting to hold up, the defense has been strong and the bats are starting to come around. We feel like we're as good, or better, than anybody in the tournament."

Southeast coach Mark Hogan, while disappointed with the overall season the Redhawks put together -- they are likely headed to just the second losing record in 11 seasons under Hogan after being picked second in the OVC's preseason poll -- appreciates the second chance they have been given.

"We had a lot higher hopes for the season, but the guys feel good about where we're at right now," Hogan said. "The main thing is we were able to get back to the tournament, and now we've got a chance to do something.

"I feel like the tournament is pretty wide open. We've got a lot of guys who experienced it last year, and I think that's really important. Hopefully it will pay off for us."

If today's tournament opener is anything like the regular-season series between Southeast and Murray State, then things should be exciting.

The Redhawks and Thoroughbreds engaged in three wild contests when the squads opened their OVC schedules on March 25 and March 26 in Murray, Ky. -- although Southeast probably doesn't have fond memories of the series.

Southeast led 6-2 in the ninth inning of the opener, but Murray State tied the contest, then won 7-6 in 13 innings. That sent the Redhawks into an early OVC hole and they were never able to pull above .500 in league play until Friday's doubleheader sweep of Tennessee-Martin.

The Redhawks did recover to win game two of the Murray State series 15-10 -- also in extra innings, as it went nine instead of the regulation seven -- but the Thoroughbreds again rallied in game three, wiping out a 6-1, fifth-inning deficit to prevail 7-6.

"It was a really crazy series with them, Hogan said. "But they've got a good ballclub and it should be another very entertaining game."

Freshman right-hander Joey Evans (8-4, 3.80 earned-run average), who was not yet a member of the starting rotation when Southeast last played Murray State but has since established himself as the Redhawks' No. 1 starter, will likely get the nod against the Thoroughbreds today.

Murray State figures to counter with senior right-hander Craig Krause. (8-2, 3.61).

Horstman is Southeast's top hitter, batting .355 for a squad that is at .282 overall. Horstman 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.

Murray State, which has a .294 average, is led by junior Chaz Ebert at .350. Sophomore second baseman Seth Hudson, a Central High School product, is batting .332.

While Southeast and Murray State rank in the middle of the OVC pack in overall batting average and run production, they are much higher than that in conference games. The Thoroughbreds lead the way with a .317 average and the Redhawks are second at .308, while in scoring Murray State is first with 203 runs, while Southeast is second with 180.

Last year, Southeast lost its tournament opener to Eastern Illinois 18-9, then bounced back with three straight wins before handing Jacksonville State its first tourney loss and then falling to the Gamecocks 5-1 in a winner-take-all title contest.

Despite struggling for much of the season, the Redhawks hope to take one more step this time.

"We didn't show it the whole season, but I still feel like we're the best team in the conference," Horstman said.

Noteworthy

* Southeast sophomore outfielder Brent Lawson was named the OVC player of the week on Monday. Lawson hit .421 with eight runs scored and six RBIs. He was 4-for-10 in Southeast's key three-game sweep of Tennessee-Martin over the weekend.

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