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Southeast Missouri State baseball team to host Jacksonville State in crucial OVC series
The Ohio Valley Conference's most successful baseball team over the past seven years is paying a visit to Cape Girardeau.
There will be plenty on the line at Capaha Field when Southeast Missouri State hosts Jacksonville State for a 1 p.m. doubleheader today and a 1 p.m. contest Saturday. All OVC series are moved up a day every year due to the Easter holiday.
"It's a big, big series," junior shortstop Kenton Parmley said. "We need to at least win the series if not sweep."
JSU has claimed two regular-season conference titles and three tournament crowns since joining the OVC in 2004, including last year's tourney title. No other squad has as many as those combined five OVC championships.
The Gamecocks, who only have finished lower than third in the OVC one time, are the only conference team to have at least 30 wins each of the past seven seasons. JSU has the best overall and OVC records since joining the league.
"The road usually goes through Jacksonville State. They've had a great program," Southeast coach Mark Hogan said. "It's only three games, but you don't get much more hype than what's going to happen at Capaha Field."
Although there still will be three conference series left after the set with JSU, a lot of people have been pointing to this one since the year started.
That's because JSU was voted the OVC preseason favorite by the league's coaches with Southeast nabbing the second spot.
Both clubs have lived up to that advance billing as title contenders so far.
Southeast (23-14, 7-4) is tied with Austin Peay for first in the nine-team league. JSU (24-13, 7-5) is just a half-game back.
"They're a good team. We just need to come out and play our game," senior first baseman Casey Jones said. "There will still be a lot of the season left, but it would set a tone if we do well."
The Redhawks are riding a seven-game winning streak and are 4-0 on their current eight-game homestand.
"We've been playing really good and we want to keep it going," Jones said.
JSU had won six straight OVC series dating back to 2010 before dropping two of three to Austin Peay over the weekend. The Gamecocks have beaten nationally ranked squads Auburn and Troy.
"I feel like we're playing our best baseball and they've had some very good wins," Hogan said.
The Gamecocks are 11-9 against Southeast since joining the OVC, but the Redhawks have won four of the past five meetings, including last year's two-game sweep in Jacksonville, Ala. One of the three scheduled contests was rained out.
Southeast is 4-2 against JSU in the last two series played at Capaha.
The squads match up well statistically, ranking high in the major categories.
JSU has the OVC's top batting average (.318) and has scored the second-most runs (244). The Gamecocks are third in ERA (4.81) and third in fielding percentage (.959).
Southeast is second in batting average (.315), first in runs (258), first in ERA (4.42) and first in fielding percentage (.969).
Seven JSU regulars are hitting better than .300, led by four in the top 12.
Junior Ben Waldrip (.388) is third, junior Erik Underwood (.380) fourth, freshman Coty Blanchard (.379) fifth and junior Sam Eberle (.361) 12th.
Waldrip is tied for fourth in home runs with seven while Eberle leads in RBIs with 37.
Blanchard, the backup quarterback for the JSU football team, is considered a future top professional baseball prospect.
JSU starters senior Jordan Beistline (4-0, 3.03) and junior Aaron Elias (5-2, 3.38) rank first and second in the league in ERA. Junior Todd Hornsby leads with 10 saves.
Southeast has 11 players who receive significant action who are hitting better than .300.
Junior third baseman Trenton Moses and senior left fielder Michael Adamson are tied for ninth in the OVC at .364.
Senior outfielder Nick Harris (.371), who recently returned from a knee injury, and senior DH Brett Russell (.370) carry Southeast's top averages but don't have enough at-bats to qualify in the rankings.
The Redhawks' three conference starters are among the OVC's top nine in ERA. Seniors Brad LaBruyere (5-1, 3.43), Jon Dicus (3-2, 3.99) and Jordan Underwood (3-0, 4.03) rank third, seventh and ninth, respectively. LaBruyere is tied for third in the conference in wins.
"It should be a great series with a lot on the line," Hogan said.