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Southeast Missouri State baseball team opens OVC tournament against JSU
Southeast enters the double-elimination, six-team tournament as the sixth seed
The Southeast Missouri State baseball team went 2-2 in last year's Ohio Valley Conference tournament.
The losses came against Jacksonville State in the Redhawks' first and last tournament games.
Southeast will get a chance to pay back JSU today when the squads meet in the opening round of the six-team, double-elimination event at Pringles Park in Jackson, Tenn.
Sixth-seeded Southeast (21-34, 12-15 OVC) and third-seeded JSU (26-28, 17-10) will meet at 7 p.m. The winner advances to Thursday's semifinals, while the loser plays an elimination game at 11 a.m. Thursday.
"I think we can make a run at it," senior shortstop Kenton Parmley said.
Southeast, which has been plagued by inexperience and inconsistency, compiled its worst overall record and worst OVC finish -- seventh -- under coach Mark Hogan.
But the Redhawks played their best baseball when it counted most, which allowed them to extend the program's record.
Southeast will make its 18th consecutive OVC tournament appearance, the longest streak in league history.
Hogan is in his 18th year at his alma mater, meaning every player he has coached has participated in the postseason.
"It's something we're proud of," Hogan said. "I'm excited about going to the tournament. We get a clean slate. If we play like we have been most of the last few weeks, then I think we've got a shot."
The Redhawks were last in the 10-team OVC after a month of the league schedule.
Southeast lost its first four conference sets but has bounced back to win four of its final five OVC series. The Redhawks went 9-6 in their last 15 OVC contests after a 3-9 start.
The Redhawks' seventh-place finish normally would have kept them out of the tournament.
But Southeast was bumped up to sixth for tournament purposes because first-year OVC member SIUE, which tied for fifth, was not eligible for the event during its final year of the Division I reclassification process.
"Our record wasn't that good, but we really picked it up toward the end of the season," senior first baseman Kody Campbell said. "We've competed with every team we played against. Playing a lot of close games these last few weeks will help us."
JSU has the OVC's best overall and conference records since joining the league in 2004. The Gamecocks have participated in all nine conference tournaments since they became OVC members.
"They've had a great program for a long time, and they've been really good since they joined our conference," Hogan said. "They've consistently been one of the top teams in our league. They're very solid across the board, but I think it's a good matchup for us."
JSU, which started this season 2-14 but has gone 24-14 since, took two of three from Southeast when the squads met May 4 to 6 in Jacksonville, Ala. All three games went down to the wire. Southeast captured the opener 5-3, and the Gamecocks then won 4-3 and 8-7.
"That was a really good series. I thought we grew up a lot on the road that weekend," Hogan said. "Three terrific ballgames. I remember driving home [on the bus] feeling pretty good about our ballclub."
JSU coach Jim Case said the Redhawks deserve to feel good about themselves entering the tournament.
"The thing SEMO has going for them, they were down and out early and they played dynamite lately. They got that going for them," Case said. "I'm sure the team we saw and the confidence they showed at that time, we're gonna see a little bit different team. They've earned the right to feel more confident the way they've played.
"I think we'll go into [the tournament] with some confidence as well, but for the most part most teams would say it's a clean slate."
Hogan ideally would start junior ace Shae Simmons, whose six OVC wins are tied for the league lead during conference games, but Hogan said Simmons needs another day of rest after pitching Friday and shouldering a heavy workload all season.
Simmons (6-4, 4.74 ERA) will start Thursday. True freshman left-hander Will Spitzfaden (2-2, 6.34) will get the nod today.
Spitzfaden has been solid in recent weeks. He is coming off an impressive performance during a win against SIU Edwardsville in his first OVC start last week.
"Will has a lot of poise. He's really pitched well lately, and I think he'll be able to handle the situation well," Hogan said. "Shae is guaranteed one start. We'll come back with him Thursday and hopefully it will be in the winners bracket."
JSU will start senior Aaron Elias (2-8, 3.82), who has been one of the OVC's most hard-luck pitchers. He has the league's eighth-best ERA but only two wins.
Elias took the loss against Southeast in the regular season despite allowing just one earned run over 6 2/3 innings.
Today's contest will feature two of the conference's premier sluggers.
Southeast All-American senior third baseman Trenton Moses leads the league in home runs with 19 and ranks second in RBIs with 59. He also is first with a .426 batting average.
JSU senior first baseman Ben Waldrip is second with 18 homers and fourth with 55 RBIs. He carries a .333 average.
The Redhawks will face top-seeded Austin Peay at 7 p.m. Thursday if they win today.
Southeast lost all three games to the Governors in Cape Girardeau during the first conference series for both teams in late March. Scores were 8-5, 5-2 and 11-7.