Southeast Missouri State baseball team controls own tourney destiny

Thursday, May 17, 2012
Southeast Missouri State starter Dylan Lynn pitches to a Murray State batter during the first inning Sunday at Capaha Field. (Fred Lynch)

SIU Edwardsville is not eligible for the Ohio Valley Conference baseball tournament this season during its final year of the Division I reclassification process.

But SIUE has made a strong impression during its inaugural OVC baseball campaign.

And the Cougars will have a lot to say about who makes the six-team OVC tournament when they close their regular season this week.

Southeast Missouri State, which is fighting for its postseason life, hosts SIUE in a three-game series beginning at 6 p.m. today.

There also will be a 2 p.m. contest Friday and a 1 p.m. senior day matchup Saturday when Southeast honors six seniors who will make their last home appearance.

Final OVC series are moved up a day so squads have a chance to set up their pitching rotation for the league tournament that begins Wednesday in Jackson, Tenn.

"Everything is on the line this week," said 18th-year Southeast coach Mark Hogan, whose squad is looking to extend the program's OVC record of conference tournament appearances that stands at 17. "We need to finish strong and send our seniors out the right way in their final home games."

Southeast (19-33, 10-14), which has won three of its last four OVC series, is tied with Morehead State for sixth place in the 10-team conference. Tennessee Tech is a half-game back because the Eagles have played one less league contest due to a rainout.

The Redhawks and Morehead are tied for fifth for OVC tournament purposes because fifth-place SIUE is not eligible for the event.

The top six finishers qualify for the tournament, so Southeast, Morehead and Techessentially are battling for the final two tourney berths.

Murray State, which is two games behind Southeast and Morehead, has an outside chance of squeezing into the tournament, but the Thoroughbreds need to win their final three games and receive plenty of help.

Morehead and Tech also finish their OVC schedules at home. Morehead plays last-place Tennessee-Martin, while Tech faces a daunting challenge against first-place Austin Peay.

Morehead owns the tiebreaker against Southeast based on winning two of three in their earlier series.

Southeast's clearest path to the tournament appears to be finishing ahead of Tech. The Redhawks need to match what the Eagles do this week, meaning if Southeast takes two of three against SIUE then Tech would have to sweep Austin Peay in order to finish ahead of the Redhawks.

"We control our own fate, which is about all you can ask," said Hogan, whose squad is 7-5 in its last four OVC series after going 3-9 in its first four conference sets. "There are still a lot of things that can happen, but if we do well this week then we've got a really good chance" to make the tournament.

SIUE (26-26, 12-12), which would be in line for a tournament berth if eligible, is coming off handing perennial power Jacksonville State its first OVC series loss of the season. The Cougars took two of three from the visiting Gamecocks last weekend.

"They've had a nice season and they're a good addition to our league," Hogan said about SIUE. "We'll have our hands full with them."

The Cougars, who are solid if not overwhelming offensively, have the OVC's best defense statistically and one of the conference's top starting pitchers along with one of the league's elite relievers.

Sophomore Travis Felax is 6-4 with a 3.08 ERA. He is coming off a complete-game win in which he held Jacksonville State to one run.

Senior left-hander Dustin Quattrocchi is 5-1 with 11 saves and an 0.71 ERA. He is tied for the OVC lead in saves.

SIUE's leading hitter is junior infielder/DH Matt Highland with a .333 average. Junior first baseman Joel Greatting is batting .305 with a team-high seven home runs. His 36 RBIs are second on the squad.

Senior center fielder Mitch Matecki is the OVC's top base-stealing threat. He's swiped 19 while being caught just once.

The Cougars have an OVC-best .979 fielding percentage, and their 40 errors are 22 fewer than any other league squad.

"They've got some very talented players," Hogan said.

Hogan is proud that Southeast's seniors never have missed the OVC tournament under his watch, thanks to the program's record streak that has seen the Redhawks qualify for the event during every one of Hogan's 17 years at his alma mater.

Hogan would hate to see that streak end with this year's small but strong senior class that includes two of Southeast's all-time greats: All-American third baseman Trenton Moses and shortstop Kenton Parmley.

First baseman Kody Campbell, an Oran High School graduate, and catcher Jesse Tierney also have been key four-year players.

Second baseman Taylor Heon and relief pitcher Ryan Prickett have made their mark after transferring from junior college.

Moses, who has a 20-game hitting streak, has reached base safely in a school-record 72 straight contests. Neither the OVC nor NCAA keeps a record for that category.

Moses leads each of the conference's triple crown categories. The Advance High School graduate is looking to become the first OVC player to accomplish that since the 1982 season. He is hitting .431 with 18 home runs and 56 RBIs.

Moses ranks first nationally in home runs, slugging (.803) and on-base percentage (.547). He is fifth in average and ninth in RBIs.

"We don't have the number of seniors like last year [18], but it's another great group," Hogan said. "They're outstanding students. They all either have graduated or will graduate. We're going to miss them, but hopefully there is still a lot of baseball left to play."

That will be determined this week.

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