Southeast Missouri State baseball team out to reverse trend at OVC tournament

Thursday, May 26, 2011
Southeast Missouri State's Trenton Moses is congratulated by teammates after his solo home run against Eastern Illinois during the fifth inning Saturday at Capaha Field. (Fred Lynch)

The Ohio Valley Conference baseball tournament has not been kind to Southeast Missouri State in recent years.

Southeast believes this week will prove different. One thing already is different.

For the first time since the current tournament format began in 2005, the Redhawks earned one of the two opening-round byes for the six-team, double-elimination event that sends the winner to the NCAA tournament.

Second-seeded Southeast (32-20) opens play against defending tournament champion Jacksonville State (34-21) at 3 p.m. today at Pringles Park in Jackson, Tenn.

Third-seeded Jacksonville State beat sixth-seeded Tennessee-Martin 9-8 on Wednesday in a first-round contest. The Gamecocks scored six eighth-inning runs to wipe out a 5-3 deficit, then held on after the Skyhawks scored three ninth-inning runs.

Southeast Missouri State closer Logan Mahon delivers to an Eastern Illinois batter during the eighth inning Saturday at Capaha Field. (Fred Lynch)

"Getting a bye really helps us out," said senior left-hander Logan Mahon, among the OVC's premier relievers who was voted second-team all-conference. "I think we have a good shot to win the whole thing."

The Redhawks finished second in the nine-team league, sweeping a three-game home series against Eastern Illinois over the weekend to nail down the No. 2 seed, just ahead of Jacksonville State.

"We're rolling right now," senior DH Brett Russell said. "We're already further [in the tournament] than we were last year."

The Redhawks can finish no worse than fifth by opening play in a winners bracket semifinal because of the bye. That's better than they fared the past two tournaments, when they were the first squad eliminated by losing their opening two games.

The Redhawks have suffered five straight tournament defeats, the last three in extra innings. They were beaten twice in 10 innings a year ago.

Southeast Missouri State shortstop Kenton Parmley, right, catches Eastern Illinois baserunner Cam Strang in a rundown during the seventh inning Saturday.

"We lost two just gut-wrenching games last year that could have gone either way," said coach Mark Hogan, who has led Southeast to a league-record 17 straight tournament appearances, including tournament titles in 1998 and 2002 along with an OVC regular-season championship in 2002. "It's been tough for us lately in the tournament."

Getting a bye doesn't guarantee success, but it enhances a team's chances. Four of the six tournament champions under the current format had a bye.

"You can do well without the bye. It's been done," Hogan said. "But I think it's important. Just the fact we got to go over there, didn't have to play the first day, it's a whole lot better than the opposite.

"We'll face a team that's already thrown some innings. On the other hand, we'll face a team who's feeling good because they're coming off a win."

That squad is Jacksonville State, which has appeared in all eight tournaments since joining the league in 2004.

The Gamecocks have an all-time OVC tournament record of 19-9 and have advanced to the championship round in six of their first seven appearances. They have the league's best overall and conference records since joining the OVC and have nine straight seasons of at least 30 wins.

"They've got a tremendous program and they're always a factor in the tournament," Hogan said. "It's a big challenge right off the bat for us."

Jacksonville State and Southeast own the OVC's longest current winning streaks. The Gamecocks have won six straight and the Redhawks three in a row.

The squads split two games April 22 in Cape Girardeau. The Redhawks won 9-8 and the Gamecocks prevailed 5-2. The series finale was rained out.

"We had two really good games with them, and I expect another one," Hogan said.

Hogan said senior left-hander Jordan Underwood, who is 5-0 with a 4.70 ERA and was voted second-team all-OVC, will start on the mound today. He has been No. 1 in Southeast's rotation virtually all season.

Underwood didn't fare well against the Gamecocks this year, not factoring into the decision in Southeast's 9-8 victory. He allowed eight hits -- four of them home runs -- and seven runs in 4 2/3 innings.

"That was over a month ago," Hogan said. "We feel good about him getting the ball."

Southeast's 18 seniors, many of them among the Redhawks' top players, want to make up for last season's quick tournament exit. That means getting off to a good start today.

"We have a really good feeling this year," senior catcher Ky Burgess said.

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