SE could win OVC title this weekend

Saturday, May 11, 2002

Mark Hogan has had some other impressive teams in seven prior seasons as Southeast Missouri State University's baseball coach.

But none of his previous squads has had a prime opportunity to clinch the Ohio Valley Conference regular-season championship -- much less been in first place -- entering the next-to-last series of the year.

In that envious position, however, is where the Indians (26-15, 12-3 OVC) find themselves as they welcome second-place Eastern Illinois (19-20, 9-5) to Capaha Field this weekend. There will be a 2 p.m. doubleheader today and a 1 p.m. single game Sunday.

"It's an exciting time for our program, knowing we have an opportunity to win our first regular-season conference championship," said Hogan, whose squad has been second the last four years. "But we know we haven't finished the job yet. Eastern Illinois is going to come in here and give it everything they've got. It should be a great weekend of baseball."

The Panthers, who won last year's OVC regular-season title, trail the Indians by 2 1/2 games, with six games remaining for both squads. Eastern Kentucky (8-6) is in third place, 3 1/2 games out of first.

Southeast would clinch the championship if it sweeps EIU. Winning two of three would eliminate the Panthers from title contention and would also wrap up the crown if Eastern Kentucky loses once to Austin Peay.

"Winning two out of three would put us in great shape, but that won't be easy against Eastern Illinois, which has really been playing well," Hogan said.

Hot vs. red hot

Both squads are hot. The Indians have won nine of their last 10 games while the Panthers have won seven of their last 10, including four straight.

"It's the biggest series since I've been here," Southeast junior third baseman Denver Stuckey said. "Us and Eastern Illinois is always a heated rivalry and it would be sweet to win it here against them."

The Panthers have a .295 team batting average and five regulars are hitting above .300, including OVC leader Pete Pirman (.405), Ben Duke (.352) and Bret Pignatiello (.336). Pignatiello tops EIU in home runs with 10 and Pirman is first in RBIs with 32.

EIU's three primary starting pitchers have been Pete Martin (4-3, 5.16 earned-run average), Scott Metz (3-3, 5.26) and Micah Gray (2-3, 6.75). The Panthers have a team ERA of 4.91, which is second in the OVC, right behind Southeast's 4.89 mark.

Southeast, which has a .305 team batting average, boasts .300-plus hitters in Vern Hatton (.373), Tristen McDonald (.366), Stuckey (.345), Zach Borowiak (.331) and Brian Hopkins (.322). Hatton and McDonald are tied for the team home run lead with five while Hatton leads in RBIs with 40.

The Indians' three starting hurlers this weekend will be Brad Purcell (8-2, 3.21), Brandon Smith (8-2, 4.34) and Tim Alvarez (4-0, 2.82).

"We're stoked for this series," McDonald said. "It should be a lot of fun and hopefully we'll have some big crowds."

Southeast has had impressive crowds at most of its home games this year and Hogan looks for more of the same this weekend.

"Our fans have been tremendous all season and if they would come out and be vocal for our club, it would mean so much to us," he said. "No team wants to come to Capaha because we've got a great environment."

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