Redhawks baseball team saves its best for last

Monday, May 21, 2012

The Southeast Missouri State baseball team, plagued by inexperience and inconsistency, compiled its worst record and worst Ohio Valley Conference finish under longtime coach Mark Hogan.

But the Redhawks played by far their best baseball of the year when it counted the most, and it allowed them to extend the program's Ohio Valley Conference record. Southeast will make its 18th consecutive appearance in this week's OVC tournament, the longest streak in league history.

Hogan is in his 18th year at his alma mater, which means every player he has coached has participated in the postseason. That's an impressive accomplishment, especially considering no other OVC squad has pulled off a similar feat.

The Redhawks have ranked among the OVC's top clubs more often than not during their record stretch.

Southeast doesn't hold that distinction this year, mainly due to a slow start that had the Redhawks a last-place 3-9 in the 10-team OVC after a month of the league schedule.

But the Redhawks finished the regular season with a 9-6 record over their final five conference series. They won four of their last five league series after they lost their first four conference sets.

The Redhawks are playing solid enough now to have a shot at making some noise when the six-team OVC tournament begins Wednesday in Jackson, Tenn.

Southeast, the sixth seed, will play third-seeded Jacksonville State at 7 p.m. in the opening round of the double-elimination event.

The Redhawks often have ranked among the tournament favorites. That's not the case this year, but at least they recovered well enough to be invited.

Last week's news that forward Nino Johnson signed with Northeast Mississippi Community College would be a big blow to the Southeast men's basketball team -- if Johnson does indeed leave the Redhawks.

I've been told that still is to be determined. Johnson's family apparently knew nothing about his signing with the junior college, and sources told me they would prefer he remain at Southeast.

From what I can piece together, one of Johnson's former AAU coaches has been trying to get Johnson to leave Southeast for weeks and finally convinced him that Northeast -- far from a powerhouse juco program -- was the right place.

Southeast coach Dickey Nutt, according to sources, was supposed to meet with Johnson and his family over the weekend at their home in Memphis, Tenn. It shouldn't be too long before we learn for certain whether Johnson's career with the Redhawks is over.

Junior college letters of intent are nonbinding so Johnson still could return to Southeast.

Johnson saw limited action as a true freshman last season but was considered to be one of the program's future cornerstones. He was expected to challenge for a starting spot in the 2012-13 campaign.

Southeast's front line would be hampered severely without Johnson next season. All-conference performer Tyler Stone and Michael Porter would be the Redhawks' only experienced options up front.

While Johnson's status still is up in the air, Southeast men's basketball is gaining what appears to be a talented player with considerable upside.

Forward Wayne Martin Jr., a transfer from the University of Central Florida, signed with Southeast last week.

Martin will have to sit out the 2012-13 season under NCAA transfer rules. He will be able to practice with the Redhawks during the upcoming season and will have three years of eligibility after that.

Martin saw little action at UCF last season, but he was a big-time recruit out of high school. Nutt believes he can be an impact player in the OVC.

Martin certainly has impressive athletic bloodlines. His father, Wayne Martin Sr., was selected by the New Orleans Saints with the 19th pick in the first round of the 1989 NFL draft. The former defensive lineman, a first-team All-American at the University of Arkansas, made the NFL Pro Bowl in 1994.

Former Southeast assistant men's basketball coach Anthony Beane has joined Barry Hinson's new staff at SIU Carbondale.

Beane, who spent the past five years as an assistant at Illinois State, was on Gary Garner's Southeast staff for three seasons, including the 1999-2000 NCAA tournament campaign.

Southeast senior linebacker Blake Peiffer has been listed by The Sports Network as one of the 10 Football Championship Subdivision linebackers to watch for the 2012 season.

That should come as no surprise considering the Jackson High School graduate made several All-American teams last year after he ranked third nationally in tackles and broke the school record for tackles with 151

Three high school baseball teams in the Southeast Missourian coverage area won district titles last week and are preparing for sectional playoff games this week.

The most surprising of the trio is Central, which won just four of its first 18 games with an inexperienced roster. The Tigers turned their season around at the perfect time and will enter the postseason on a seven-game winning streak .

Central captured its second consecutive Class 4 District 1 title despite being seeded sixth in the seven-team field.

Other area district champions are perennial state powerhouse Oran and Oak Ridge, both in Class 1.

Marty Mishow is a sports writer for the Southeast Missourian.

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