Indians can pad OVC lead at Tech

Saturday, May 4, 2002

Southeast Missouri State University is in the driver's seat to win its first Ohio Valley Conference regular-season baseball championship.

But Indians coach Mark Hogan says the Indians, who have been close to the title several times, can't afford to let up. They need to keep the pressure on the rest of the league, beginning today in the start of a three-game series with Tennessee Tech at Cookeville, Tenn.

The first-place Indians (23-14, 10-2 OVC) and Eagles (21-21, 4-7) will play a 2 p.m. doubleheader today and a 2 p.m. single game Sunday.

"We're in good shape, but there is still plenty of baseball left to be played," Hogan said. "We can't let up and I don't think this ballclub will do that."

Southeast leads Murray State (7-5) by three games with nine remaining. Also within striking distance are Morehead State (8-6), Eastern Kentucky (8-6) and Eastern Illinois (6-5).

If the Indians keep playing the way they have been, they'll be hard to catch. Southeast has won six straight games and 16 of its last 19.

"One thing going on with our club right now, I don't think it's a fluky streak," Hogan said. "We're hot right now and it's different people doing it all the time. It's been a fun year because of that."

One reason Hogan refuses to take anything for granted regarding a possible OVC regular-season championship is because the Indians have had so many close calls during his seven previous seasons as their coach.

During that time, the Indians have finished in second place four times -- including the last three years in a row.

"We've been close a number of times and it would be nice to finally get over the hump," Hogan said. "That's a trophy I really admire and it would be a big honor to do it with this team because I really have a lot of regard for our ballclub."

Tech won last year's OVC Tournament to make the NCAA regionals, but the Eagles are in seventh place out of eight teams. Only the top six squads qualify for the OVC Tournament, so Hogan knows Southeast will get the Eagles' best shot this weekend.

"They'll be fighting their guts out to get into the tournament," he said. "They'll be a dangerous club."

The Indians, whose offensive surge continues, have pushed their collective batting average to .300 for the first time all season. Vern Hatton (.375) is the team leader, but Tristen McDonald (.371) is close behind. Also above .300 are Zach Borowiak (.327), Denver Stuckey (.322) and Brian Hopkins (.307). Borowiak shot up the list with Tuesday's school-record-tying five-hit performance at Saint Louis.

Noteworthy

  • Hatton, McDonald, Borowiak and Hopkins all have four home runs to tie for the team lead. Hatton is first in runs batted in (33), followed by McDonald (31). Five others have at least 20 RBIs: Stuckey (27), Borowiak (26), Clemente Bonilla (24), Hopkins (23) and Eric Hoffman (20). Hatton is among the national leaders in triples with seven. He and Borowiak both have 12 doubles to tie for team-high honors.

    Ace Brad Purcell (7-2, 3.39 earned-run average), Brandon Smith (8-1, 4.45) and Tim Alvarez (3-0, 2.15) have been by far the most consistent OVC starting staff. Smith leads the league in wins while Purcell is second.

    Tech has a .319 batting average, led by Jake Allen (.384) and Cole Helms (.376). Eight Eagles are hitting better than .300. But the Eagles have struggled on the mound, with a 6.76 ERA.

    mmishow@semissourian.com

    (573) 335-6611, extension 132

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