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Southeast Missouri State baseball team out to keep grip on second place in OVC
The Southeast Missouri State baseball team will bid farewell to 18 seniors when the Redhawks host Eastern Illinois for a three-game series today and Saturday.
Southeast coach Mark Hogan hopes those vital cogs in his program end their home careers on a high note, which in turn leads the Redhawks to a first-round Ohio Valley Conference tournament bye.
"It's a big weekend for a lot of reasons. It's going to be exciting," Hogan said of today's 1 p.m. doubleheader and Saturday's 1 p.m. senior day contest.
Southeast is locked in a tight battle for second place in the nine-team OVC. The top two finishers earn byes for the opening round of the six-team conference tournament, which begins Wednesday in Jackson, Tenn., and sends its winner to the NCAA tournament.
Four of the six tournament winners enjoyed a first-round bye since the current format began in 2005. Southeast never has captured one of the byes.
"That bye is important," Hogan said. "It doesn't mean you can't win the tournament if you don't get it, but it helps. We would obviously like to have it."
While Austin Peay already has clinched the OVC regular-season title and claimed one of the byes, Southeast (29-20, 11-8) is in second place.
But third-place Jacksonville State trails Southeast by just one-half game, and the Gamecocks have a softer opponent to end the season. They host last-place Morehead State.
"A lot of things can still happen," said Hogan, whose squad has secured its league-record 17th straight OVC tournament berth. "It's not going to be easy for us. Eastern Illinois is still fighting to get into the tournament.
"They can't afford to lose to us and we can't afford to lose to them."
The fifth-place Panthers (18-30, 9-9), who have not clinched a tournament berth, still are alive for second place, along with fourth-place Tennessee Tech, although those squads would have to sweep and receive plenty of help.
"There's a lot on the line all throughout the league going into this final weekend," said Hogan, who led Southeast to the OVC regular-season championship in 2002 along with OVC tournament titles and NCAA regional berths in 1998 and 2002. "It's going to go down to the wire like it always does."
Most of Southeast's large group of seniors, 11 of them junior college transfers who joined the program before last season, have been among the club's top players over the past two years.
"It's the last time at Capaha with a great group of seniors," Hogan said. "The introductions [before Saturday[']s senior day game] will take about an hour."
Michael Adamson, Kirk Boeller, Ky Burgess, Jon Dicus, Corey Harness, Nick Harris, Louie Haseltine, Casey Jones, Brad LaBruyere, Logan Mahon, Tim Rupp, Brett Russell, Blake Slattery, Josh Syberg, Nick Thomas, Jordan Underwood, Jacob Wente and Trent Wise are the seniors.
Adamson, Harris, Haseltine, Jones and Mahon all figure prominently on many of the school's records lists. Most of the others have been either starters or key performers throughout their careers.
LaBruyere and Slattery are Central High School graduates. Boeller graduated from Notre Dame Regional High School.
Harness, Harris, Haseltine, LaBruyere, Slattery and Syberg have been in the program since they were freshmen. Boeller joined the group as a sophomore.
"A lot of these seniors have had great years. A lot of them have had illustrious careers with us," Hogan said. "They're outstanding students. They're all going to graduate. It's just a great group and we're going to miss them, but hopefully we've still got a lot of baseball left to play."
Hogan is especially proud that the seniors never have missed the OVC tournament, thanks to the program's record streak. Southeast has qualified for the event during every one of Hogan's 17 years at his alma mater.
"All these guys have had an opportunity to decide their postseason fate on the field," Hogan said.
That will happen again next week. The only thing left to be decided is whether Southeast plays in Wednesday's opening round of the tournament or doesn't see action until Thursday.
"We'll have our work cut out for us against a talented Eastern Illinois ballclub," Hogan said about a squad that leads the OVC with a 4.25 ERA. "They always play a good series against us."