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Time short for Southeast Missouri State baseball team to make move in Ohio Valley Conference race
The Southeast Missouri State baseball team has righted the ship after an extremely tough first several weeks of the year.
Southeast coach Mark Hogan hopes a strong finish will lead to extending the program's record of Ohio Valley Conference tournament appearances, which stands at 17.
The Redhawks begin their final push with six consecutive OVC home contests to end the regular season. First up is today's 6 p.m. matchup with Murray State that kicks off a three-game series. The squads also will play at 2 p.m. Saturday and 1 p.m. Sunday.
"It's all on the line for both clubs," said Hogan, who has led Southeast to the OVC tournament in all 17 of his previous seasons at his alma mater. "I would say the OVC tournament starts this weekend. We're fighting to get in, and so are they."
Southeast (17-32, 8-13) is eighth in the 10-team conference but seventh for OVC tournament purposes. SIU Edwardsville, which is tied for fifth place, is not eligible for the event this season during its final year of the Division I reclassification process.
The top six finishers qualify for the tournament. Southeast is just one game out of the sixth and final tournament berth currently held by Tennessee Tech. The Redhawks own the tiebreaker with the Eagles based on winning their earlier series.
Southeast lost its first four OVC series and started conference play 3-9. The Redhawks have won two of their past three league series and gone 5-4 since the opening stretch.
"We've really turned it around. We haven't had a good season by any means, but it's unreal how much better we've been the last 10, 15 games," said Hogan, whose squad has won nine of its past 17 following a stretch that saw the Redhawks lose 14 of 15. "I'm really proud of them."
Ninth-place Murray State (21-28, 7-14), which trails Southeast by one game and Tennessee Tech by two games in the battle to squeeze into the tournament, has lost four straight and eight of 10.
"They've had trouble lately, but they're going to bring their best. It's been a good rivalry," Hogan said. "Both teams have to look at it the same. Murray has to win, and so do we.
"Somebody this weekend will come out in pretty good shape, although they'll still have work to do. But whoever gets hurt this weekend will be in bad shape. It should be an interesting series."
Southeast is coming off its first OVC series loss in three tries, but the Redhawks played some of their best baseball of the season at perennial conference power Jacksonville State last weekend.
The Redhawks won the opener 5-3 before suffering 4-3 and 8-7 defeats. Southeast did not commit an error in the three games.
"I was really proud of how we played against one of the elite teams in our league," Hogan said. "The effort was outstanding."
Hogan has one of his most inexperienced teams. Southeast's 34-man roster features only 13 players who were in the program last season, and three of those redshirted.
The Redhawks returned just three pitchers and no starting hurlers from a year ago. The pitching staff's improvement in recent weeks has coincided with Southeast's boost in the win column.
"It took us a while to figure out our pitching staff -- who fits into what roles -- but our pitching has really improved the past few weeks," Hogan said. "As the guys started getting experience ... they're good athletes and they've finally figured it out."
Southeast All-American senior third baseman Trenton Moses will look to continue his school-record streak of reaching base safely that stands at 69 games. Neither the OVC nor NCAA keeps a record for that category.
Moses leads the OVC in the three triple crown categories of batting average (.427), home runs (18) and RBIs (54). He also is first in runs scored (53), on-base percentage (.543) and slugging percentage (.809).
Moses is first nationally in homers and slugging percentage. He is second in on-base percentage and third in batting average.
Southeast ranks sixth in the OVC in batting (.281), sixth in runs scored (300) and eighth in ERA (6.43).
MSU is fourth in the league in batting (.290), third in runs scored (305) and seventh in ERA (6.00).
The Thoroughbreds' offense, which features six players hitting above .300, will be without its top all-around performer this weekend.
Senior shortstop Travis Isaak, who is first on the squad in homers with six and RBIs with 39 while ranking among the national leaders with an OVC-best 20 doubles, has missed the past five games with an injury that will keep him out of the Southeast series.
MSU's pitching rotation this weekend will be senior Tyler Beers (3-5, 6.30 ERA) today, senior left-hander Bryan Babin (4-4, 5.65) on Saturday and sophomore Cameron Finch (4-3, 5.46) on Sunday.
Southeast will go with junior Shae Simmons (4-4, 4.94) today, junior college transfer left-hander Zack Smith (2-5, 5.05) on Saturday and juco transfer Dylan Lynn (4-0, 5.07) on Sunday.