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Southeast Missouri State baseball team earns first-round bye in OVC tourney with victory
The Southeast Missouri State baseball team will enter the Ohio Valley Conference tournament with plenty of momentum and a first-round bye.
Southeast made sure of that Saturday, ending the regular season with an 8-7 win over Eastern Illinois that completed a sweep of the three-game series.
The Redhawks improved to 32-20 overall and 14-8 in OVC play with the victory in front of a Capaha Field crowd announced at nearly 1,100.
Southeast finished second in the nine-team OVC. The Redhawks, the No. 2 seed for the six-team conference tournament in Jackson, Tenn., begin play at 3 p.m. Thursday.
"We really wanted to get that bye," said senior pitcher Brad LaBruyere, Saturday's winner.
The Redhawks held off a furious rally by the Panthers (18-33, 9-12), who needed a win to make the conference tournament. They trailed 8-3 before scoring four eighth-inning runs.
"It was one heck of a game," senior catcher Ky Burgess said. "We knew they were fighting for their lives. ... It shows the character of our team as well."
Southeast's 18 seniors, most of them among the squad's top players, had a triumphant senior day that carried over from Friday's doubleheader sweep.
"We went out with a bang you could say," senior DH Brett Russell said.
Russell had one of the game's biggest hits, a three-run seventh-inning triple that put Southeast ahead 8-3 and allowed the Redhawks enough breathing room to hold off EIU.
Russell's first triple of the season came on the first pitch from Matt Miller, who Russell homered against Friday.
"In that situation, after hitting the home run off him, I figured he didn't want to get behind me," said Russell, who shot a ball over the center fielder's head. "I was looking for a fastball."
Things got interesting when the Panthers, knowing they would not make the OVC tournament if they didn't rally, pulled within 8-7.
Fortunately for the Redhawks, they have one of the OVC's premier closers in senior left-hander Logan Mahon.
Mahon, who retired the final two batters in the eighth inning -- he gave up a double that allowed an inherited runner to score -- finished off the victory.
Mahon retired the first two batters in the ninth inning before issuing a walk, which brought up Zach Borenstein, EIU's top hitter. He had two homers in the series, including a three-run shot in Saturday's eighth inning.
"I didn't even know he was their best hitter," Mahon said. "I knew he'd been tearing it up this weekend, but I felt good with the lefty-lefty matchup."
Borenstein hit the ball hard but lined out to junior shortstop Kenton Parmley.
"Luckily he hit it right to [Parmley]," said Mahon, who struck out two.
Mahon recorded his eighth save of the season and eighth of his two-year Southeast career after being a starter in 2010. He is tied for second on the school single-season saves list and tied for fourth in career saves.
"He's been great for us all year," Southeast coach Mark Hogan said.
The same goes for LaBruyere, a Central High School graduate who is tied for the OVC lead in wins. LaBruyere improved to 8-2. He allowed five hits and three runs, just one earned, in six-plus innings. He struck out three and walked one.
"I felt good. I had a good feel for all my pitches," LaBruyere said.
Said Hogan: "He gave us a terrific start."
Sophomore Shae Simmons got Southeast out of a seventh-inning jam. EIU trailed 4-2 with runners on first and third with nobody out when he relieved LaBruyere.
Simmons, from Scott City, recorded three straight outs to preserve the lead with only the runner at third scoring. He ran into eighth-inning trouble and gave way to Mahon.
Russell had two of Southeast's 11 hits and drove in four runs. He had a team-high seven RBIs in the series, picking up where he had been before missing several recent games with a wrist injury.
Junior third baseman Trenton Moses, an Advance High School graduate, went 2 for 2 with a home run and two RBIs while walking twice.
He batted .667 in the series (6 for 9).
Moses, now hitting a team-high .405 while leading the Redhawks with 11 homers and 51 RBIs -- all those figures rank among the OVC leaders -- is one of the favorites to win the league's player of the year award.
"It's always in the back of your mind, but I just want to win the conference [tournament] championship," said Moses, whose third-inning RBI single broke a 2-2 tie and put Southeast ahead for good.
Burgess doubled twice while adding two RBIs and scoring three times. Parmley also had two hits.
The defensive play of the game -- and one of the plays of the season -- was turned in by senior center fielder Blake Slattery.
Slattery, another Central graduate, covered all kinds of ground and left his feet to catch a ball in the left-center alley off the bat of Ben Thoma in the second inning.
"We got contributions from everybody," Hogan said. "It was just a real battle right out of the chute. Congratulations to our club."