OVC champions hope starters can shake off injuries
Tuesday, May 21, 2002
Getting healthy is one of the primary concerns for Southeast Missouri State University's baseball team as it prepares for this week's Ohio Valley Conference Tournament.
At the top of the Indians' injury list is junior shortstop Zach Borowiak, who was hit by a pitch on the left hand during the first game of Saturday's doubleheader at Morehead State.
Borowiak did not play the rest of the weekend and he still has some swelling on the hand, but Southeast coach Mark Hogan said he believes Borowiak will be ready for the tournament. Top-seeded Southeast (32-17) will play No. 6 Morehead State (29-25) at 3 p.m. Wednesday at Brooks Stadium in Paducah, Ky.
"I think Zach is going to be OK," Hogan said. "It's going to be a pain tolerance kind of thing. It hit him flush, on the meat of the hand, in a tough spot.
"Zach was feeling quite a bit better Sunday and I know he'll do everything he can to be ready. It's a concern, obviously, but we're hoping for the best."
Senior second baseman Clemente Bonilla is also ailing a bit with a tender back, but Hogan said he should be fine for the tournament.
"It doesn't hurt him to turn, but when he bends down it gives him some trouble," Hogan said. "But he's real close to 100 percent and he'll be ready to go."
Plenty of momentum
Overall, Hogan said he feels good about the way the OVC champion Indians will enter the tournament despite losing 16-10 at Morehead State in Sunday's regular-season finale. Hogan rested many of his starters and did not use any of his primary pitchers in that contest.
Still, the Indians have won 15 of their last 18 games and won all seven series against OVC opponents during the regular season in compiling a 16-5 league record.
"I feel really good about our club," Hogan said. "The confidence I have in our club stems from playing well the last seven, eight weeks in a row, not just for a few games.
"Anything can happen in the tournament. There's no way to predict what can happen in a three, four-day deal. Everybody has a clean slate now. But if we play like we have been and get the pitching we have been getting, I think we'll be in good shape."
Senior center fielder Vern Hatton ended the regular season with the Indians' top average (.378), although he is in a close race for the team batting title with junior third baseman Denver Stuckey (.373).
Others hitting above .300 are junior catcher Tristen McDonald (.353), junior left fielder Brian Hopkins (.339), Borowiak (.317) and Bonilla (.317).
McDonald's eight home runs top the squad, followed by Hatton's seven and Hopkins' six. Hatton's 51 runs batted in lead the way, followed by McDonald's 42.
In addition, junior David Lawson (.290) has become a big offensive threat in recent weeks and he went 7-for-12 in the series at Morehead State. Lawson, Southeast's designated hitter for most of the season, also sparkled defensively in the past several games filling in for Bonilla at second base.
"Dave has really come on," Hogan said. "He's been playing great lately."
Individual postseason awards and the all-conference teams, as voted on by the league's head coaches and sports information directors, will be handed out tonight at the tournament banquet in Paducah.
Southeast figures to be a lock for at least two of the major awards and could possibly come away with even more.
Either senior Brad Purcell (10-2, 3.02 earned-run average) or senior Brandon Smith (10-2, 4.15), who are tied for the most wins in the conference, is the likely Pitcher of the Year, with Purcell probably having the edge because of his lower ERA and his role as the staff ace.
Hogan, whose squad was picked second in the preseason poll but ran away with the regular-season title, is the heavy favorite for Coach of the Year.
Hatton, who ranks in the top 10 in eight of the league's 12 statistical categories, should receive plenty of support for Player of the Year, as could Stuckey, although there will be stiff competition for that award from around the league.
Finally, junior-college transfer Tim Alvarez (5-1, 2.88), who has the OVC's lowest ERA and has been one of the keys to the Indians' season after moving into the No. 3 starter's role, figures to be a leading candidate for Rookie of the Year.
Alvarez won the OVC Pitcher of the Week award Monday for the second time after his three-hit, complete-game win over Arkansas last Tuesday.
In addition, a host of Indians should make the all-conference teams.