Redhawks carry high hopes into 2011 season

Monday, February 14, 2011

One of the area's most popular teams is just about ready to open its season.

And anticipation is high, perhaps even higher than usual.

The Southeast Missouri State baseball squad begins what on paper shapes up as a big year with the start of a three-game series at defending Sun Belt Conference champion Louisiana-Lafayette on Friday.

Southeast faced major questions last season as an inexperienced group loaded with newcomers was picked to finish seventh in the nine-team Ohio Valley Conference.

The Redhawks did much better than that, going 30-25 and placing fourth in the OVC. They qualified for the six-team conference tournament a league-record 16th straight time -- or every year since Mark Hogan has been coach.

Southeast now features an experienced squad, losing just two players of note from last season while returning eight position starters and 11 pitchers along with other key performers.

And that's not even counting several key players who missed most of 2010 with injuries but are now healthy.

It's no wonder the Redhawks are rated as major contenders for the OVC title, being picked second in the preseason poll voted on by the conference's coaches and placing a league-high six players on the 14-player preseason all-OVC team.

Defending OVC tournament champion Jacksonville State, which has been the overall best team since joining the league in 2004, is the preseason favorite in a close vote despite not having a preseason all-conference selection.

The Gamecocks need to replace their top five hitters from 2010 but still figure to be plenty tough based on their track record.

Defending regular-season champion Tennessee Tech was the third choice as the top three teams swept the first-place votes. Four went to Jacksonville State, three to Southeast and two to Tech.

Hogan, entering his 17th season at his alma mater, is the winningest coach in program history and has led Southeast to at least 30 victories eight times.

Nobody will be surprised if Southeast makes it nine seasons of 30 wins or more this year or if the Redhawks make a serious run at the OVC crown.

Southeast has six straight home contests after opening the season at Louisiana-Lafayette. The home opener is Feb. 22 against Harris-Stowe.

There are not many better things on the area sports scene than watching baseball at Capaha Field on a nice spring day.

And the Redhawks again have a strong home schedule with 28 of the 55 scheduled games at Capaha.

Southeast basketball teams aren't having the type of seasons that turn heads, but both have improved since last year and are in solid position to make the OVC tournament after each missed the event in 2009-10. The men haven't qualified since the 2006-07 campaign.

Southeast's men and women are both seventh in the 10-team league. The top eight reach the tournament.

While simply squeezing into the conference tournament isn't something to generally jump for joy over, it would be a step in the right direction for both programs.

The men (7-19, 5-10) have matched their overall win total from last season and have surpassed their OVC win total. They finished ninth in the league a year ago and were picked to wind up there again.

The men lead both Tennessee-Martin and Eastern Illinois -- who are tied for eighth and play each other Tuesday -- by one game with three OVC games left.

The Redhawks hold the tie-breaker over EIU because they swept the season series and currently hold the tie-breaker over UTM. Southeast probably will make the tournament even if it doesn't post another conference win.

The women (8-16, 4-10) have surpassed their overall victory total from last season and have matched their OVC victory count. They were last in the league a year ago and projected to again occupy that spot.

With four OVC games remaining, the women lead Tennessee State and Murray State -- who are tied for eighth -- by one game. Last-place Eastern Kentucky is another half-game back.

The Redhawks swept the season series from EKU and have won the first encounters with TSU and Murray. Southeast might slip into the tournament without winning another game but probably needs at least one more victory.

Both squads have their final home games this week. The men face Murray State on Wednesday and Sacramento State in the BracketBuster on Saturday. The women play Murray State on Thursday and Tennessee-Martin on Saturday.

Former Southeast basketball player Jajuan Maxwell, who played his first three seasons with the Redhawks before transferring to Drury for his final campaign, is thriving for the Division II program in Springfield, Mo.

Maxwell is Drury's No. 2 scorer with a 16.5 average and its top rebounder with a 6.6 mark while leading with 15 blocks.

The senior forward, shooting a sizzling 60.9 percent from the field, leads the squad in scoring during Great Lakes Conference play with a 17.8 mark.

Drury (18-6) has clinched its fourth GLC West Division title in six years.

Marty Mishow is a sports writer for the Southeast Missourian.

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