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Southeast makes the most of its practice time outdoors
Mid-January often isn't a good time to be a Midwest college baseball team trying to get things accomplished in early practices.
But Southeast Missouri State University has caught a break over the past week.
The Indians began practice Jan. 8 and have held most of their workouts outdoors at Capaha Field, thanks to temperatures in the 40s.
By Missouri standards, that's almost tropical.
"We had a great first week with being able to get outside so much," Southeast coach Mark Hogan said as he watched the Indians play an abbreviated intrasquad game Tuesday afternoon. "That's very unusual for this time of the year."
Another thing the Indians have going for them, according to Hogan, is the availability of the FieldTurf surface at Houck Stadium that allows Southeast to train outside even if Capaha Field might be too wet. FieldTurf resembles natural grass but drains well.
"The turf at Houck is one of the best things we have going for us," said Hogan, whose squad plays Feb. 15 at Oklahoma. "Most teams in the Midwest are really at a disadvantage. This really helps put us on more equal footing, even if it's not 70 degrees."
The Indians went 34-20 last year and finished second in the Ohio Valley Conference for the fourth straight year. Southeast lost impressive talent from that squad, including OVC Pitcher of the Year and All-American Todd Pennington, who was selected in the baseball draft following his junior year and decided to skip his final season of eligibility.
Although the Indians return several key position players -- including OVC Player of the Year and All-American second baseman Clemente Bonilla -- their pitching staff took a hit. In addition to losing Pennington, Tommy Thomas and ace reliever Jeff Hilz completed their eligibility, leaving only Brad Purcell returning among the frontline starters.
But Hogan said the Indians have some capable pitchers to take up the slack, including promising newcomer Ryan Cheo, a transfer from UCLA.
Cheo, a left-hander, will be a junior in eligibility. He spent two seasons at Saddleback Junior College in his native California before signing with UCLA, but redshirted in his one year at UCLA.
"I like it here. It's been a good change," Cheo said. "And it's a great group of guys. I'm just trying to fit in."
Cheo said he was initially disappointed that things did not work out for him at UCLA but he's only looking ahead, not behind.
"They wanted to go in a direction with some younger pitchers and they felt it was best if I moved on," he said. "It was disappointing at first, because every kid out there would love a chance to play for UCLA.
"But this is kind of bigger than that. It's about the chance to get to play at a high level."
Cheo's main connection to Southeast is that he's a friend of Bonilla. Both are from Orange County in California, although they attended rival high schools.
"That's kind of how I wound up here," he said. "It's been great so far and I just want to contribute as well as I can."
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