Southeast Missouri State baseball team upends top seed Austin Peay in OVC tournament

Friday, May 25, 2012

JACKSON, Tenn. -- The Southeast Missouri State baseball team has come a long way since being swept by Austin Peay in both squads' Ohio Valley Conference-opening series in late March.

Southeast has come far enough to turn the tables on the Governors in Thursday night's high-stakes game that continued the Redhawks' postseason run.

Sixth-seeded Southeast sent top-seeded Austin Peay into the Ohio Valley Conference tournament losers bracket with a pulsating 4-3 semifinal victory that ended with the Governors stranding the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth inning.

"It was definitely exciting, more than we hoped it would have been," senior first baseman Kody Campbell said.

The Redhawks (23-34), who began the six-team, double-elimination event Wednesday with a 4-1 victory over third-seeded Jacksonville State to capture their tournament opener for the first time since 2008, have won their first two tournament games for the first time since 1998.

Southeast, which is two wins away from an unlikely tournament title and NCAA regional berth, advanced to today's 7 p.m. winners bracket final against fourth-seeded Eastern Illinois. A berth in Saturday's 3:30 p.m. championship game will be on the line.

"We've worked ourselves into a good position. Tomorrow night's a massive game," Southeast coach Mark Hogan said.

Defending OVC tournament and regular-season champion Austin Peay (34-22), which also claimed a share of this year's regular-season title, had won five of the previous six meetings against Southeast, including all three this year.

But the Governors have struggled against Southeast in the tournament. They lost the past six matchups to the Redhawks, although the most recent meeting had been in 2008.

Southeast, which put on a late-season run after an extremely slow start to make the tournament for an OVC-record 18th straight time, rode a brilliant start by ace Shae Simmons, a three-run eighth inning that snapped a 1-1 tie and a major escape job in the bottom of the ninth inning after Ryan Prickett relieved Simmons.

Austin Peay scored twice in the ninth after Simmons came out following a leadoff walk. The Govs had the bases loaded with two outs when Prickett struck out OVC RBI leader Greg Bachman to nail down the victory.

"It was kind of like last night's game," Hogan said. "So many big plays."

Simmons was a tough-luck loser against Austin Peay in a 5-2 regular-season defeat. He allowed two hits and three unearned runs over 5 2/3 innings, and his record fell to 0-4.

Simmons (7-4) hasn't lost since. He's won his past seven decisions. He worked eight-plus innings Thursday, allowing six hits and five walks while striking out five. He was charged with two runs.

"A brilliant game," Hogan said. "He threw the game of his life, and he had to."

Simmons, a junior who never before had lasted more than seven innings, threw 113 pitches. He generally reaches that total in six or seven innings.

"It helps they hit balls at people. That keeps the pitch count down," said Simmons, the OVC leader in strikeouts.

Things got extremely hairy after Simmons issued a leadoff walk to begin the ninth inning. Hogan decided that Simmons had had enough and turned to Prickett, a senior left-hander. Simmons agreed with the move.

"My arm was getting tired," he said. "I was about done."

Prickett walked the first batter he faced, then balked the runners to second and third. A single made it 4-2, and a walk loaded the bases with nobody out.

Prickett then had to face Austin Peay's best hitters but stayed strong. He struck out Jon Clinard, got Jordan Hankins on a fly ball to center that brought in a run and walked Reed Harper to reload the bases.

Prickett than fanned Bachman, the Govs' top hitter, for his third save of the season, which set off a celebration by Southeast players.

"I was just trying to not walk any more people," Prickett said. "Thank God he whiffed."

Said Hogan: "He stuttered a little bit but got his composure. He made some unreal pitches."

The Redhawks failed to capitalize on numerous chances against senior left-hander Zach Toney, Austin Peay's ace, except for senior shortstop Kenton Parmley's solo home run in the fifth inning that forged a 1-1 tie. It was Parmley's 12th homer of the year.

Southeast stranded 10 baserunners over Toney's seven innings. He threw 140 pitches before Southeast finally broke through against Austin Peay's bullpen in the eighth inning.

"Brilliance on the mound by both teams," Hogan said. "We had a couple of chances early, then it locked out into a big-time pitcher's duel."

Campbell, who has three hits in both tournament games, led off the eighth with a single.

Campbell, who is not known for his speed, stole just his second base of the season with one out, and senior second baseman Taylor Heon was hit by a pitch.

Redshirt freshman right fielder Jason Blum, who hasn't started either tournament contest because of a hamstring problem, pinch-hit as the first batter to face Austin Peay closer Tyler Rogers.

Blum singled to right field and the hard-charging Campbell barely was safe at the plate when catcher Matt Wollenzin could not hold on to a low throw.

"I was just trying to do what I can," Blum said. "I found a hole."

Heon scored on a wild pitch, and All-American senior third baseman Trenton Moses finished the flurry with a two-out RBI single that held up as the game-winner.

Campbell went 3 for 5 to lead Southeast's nine-hit attack. Moses added two hits to extend his school-record streak of reaching base safely to 77 games.

The Redhawks will try to make it three straight tournament victories today against another surprise winners bracket final participant. Eastern Illinois (28-27) took two of three from Southeast during the regular-season series.

"We know if we win that game somebody has to beat us twice," Campbell said. "We'll be ready and so will they. They're a tough team."

Hogan said junior college transfer Dylan Lynn will start on the mound today.

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