The Southeast Missouri State baseball team returns to Ohio Valley Conference action this weekend with a three-game series at the league's defending regular-season champion.
Southeast and Tennessee Tech will play a 1 p.m. doubleheader Saturday and a 1 p.m. contest Sunday in Cookeville, Tenn.
"They've built a really good program," said Southeast coach Mark Hogan, whose squad is 3-1 during its current stretch of nine straight road games. "It's going to be a hornet's nest for us, but it should be an exciting series."
The Redhawks (16-12, 3-2 OVC) and Eagles (11-16, 1-2) both entered the year with high expectations after being picked to finish second and third, respectively, in the nine-team league.
Southeast is in a three-way tie for second place, one-half game behind preseason favorite Jacksonville State, after playing two of its eight conference series.
Tech has played just one OVC series and is in a three-way tie for seventh. The Eagles dropped two of three at home to Jacksonville State.
"It's still very early for both clubs," Hogan said. "The conference season is really just getting started."
Tech is one of two OVC squads that has won 30 or more games each of the past three years. Jacksonville State is the other.
The Eagles began last season 0-5 in OVC play before running off 11 straight conference victories and winning 14 of their final 15 league games to win their first regular-season title since 1997.
Tech failed to repeat as OVC tournament champion but did advance to the title round for the second straight season before falling to Jacksonville State.
Gone from last year's squad is All-American A.J. Kirby-Jones, who tied the OVC single-season record with 26 home runs before being drafted by the Oakland Athletics in the ninth round.
All-American senior outfielder Chad Oberacker, the OVC preseason player of the year, is back. He was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals in the 19th round but elected to return to school for his final season. He was third nationally with a .452 batting average while setting OVC single-season records for hits (108) and doubles (29) last year.
"He was my OVC preseason player of the year pick," Hogan said. "He's a great player."
Oberacker is hitting just .289, but he is tied for second in the OVC with six home runs and ranks fifth with 26 RBIs.
The Eagles are fifth in the OVC with a .289 average while scoring 157 runs, just seventh-best in the league. They are fifth with a 5.76 ERA and second with a .963 fielding percentage.
Zach Stephens has six homers and a team-high 30 RBIs that are tied for the conference lead. He is hitting .339.
Tech's top starting pitcher has been Matthew Shepherd, who is 2-3 with a 4.12 ERA. Oberacker also has been a starter on the mound. He is 0-2 with a 4.50 ERA.
Southeast is third in the conference in batting at .295 and has scored the second-most runs (179). The Redhawks are second in ERA (4.21) and first in fielding percentage (.968).
The Redhawks will go with their usual conference starting rotation of seniors Jon Dicus (2-1, 3.44), Jordan Underwood (2-0, 3.79) and Brad LaBruyere (3-1, 2.91).
All are among the OVC's top 10 in ERA.