Indians wary of big OVC tournament task

Wednesday, May 22, 2002

Logic says Southeast Missouri State University should ease past Morehead State in today's opening round of the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament.

But logic sometimes takes a back seat to weird happenings in the league tournament, when stakes are raised and regular-season records mean little.

"Anything can happen in the tournament. There's just no way to predict," Southeast coach Mark Hogan said. "Everybody is starting fresh and you can pretty much throw records out the window."

Hogan said he's concerned with Morehead, even though the top-seeded Indians (32-17, 16-5) cruised to the OVC regular-season championship while the sixth-seeded Eagles (29-25, 9-11) barely sneaked into the tournament on a tie-breaker.

What worries Hogan the most about the Eagles is an explosive offense that led the OVC in batting average (.343) and set an all-time conference record for home runs in a single season with 125.

Nine players who received at least 95 at-bats hit better than .300 for the Eagles and two players broke the league's previous all-time individual single-season homer mark, Cary Page with 26 and Bubba Lavender with 24.

"They are dangerous because of their offense," Hogan said. "They've got some guys who can hit it out of the park."

But the Indians showed over the weekend during a three-game series at Morehead that the Eagles' big hitters can be shut down.

During Saturday's doubleheader, when Southeast used some of its top pitchers, the Eagles managed just five runs, although they did explode for 16 runs and 24 hits Sunday when the Indians did not employ any of their main hurlers.

While Morehead has a strong offense, its pitching staff was one of the OVC's worst this year with a 7.92 earned-run average. The Indians scorched the Eagles for 28 runs and 39 hits in the recent three-game series.

Southeast has been much more balanced, with a .310 batting average that is third in the conference and a 4.77 ERA that ranks first. The Indians boast the OVC's top two ERA leaders in Tim Alvarez (2.88) and Brad Purcell (3.02), and they have the league's biggest winners in Purcell and Brandon Smith, both 10-2.

"Having two pitchers go 10-2 is almost unheard of, and we've got a deep staff, which should really help us in this kind of tournament," Hogan said. "If we play the way we're capable and keep getting the pitching we have been, we'll be in good shape."

The winner of the double-elimination tournament receives an automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament.

"This is really an exciting time because of what's at stake," Hogan said. "Even though we've had a tremendous season, I think this club is mature enough to go into the tournament and not feel too good about what we've done so far. They want more."

Last year the Indians entered the conference tournament as one of the favorites -- they were seeded second -- but were eliminated in two games.

"We were so nervous in the tournament last year and didn't play well," Hogan said. "Win or lose, I don't think that will happen this time."

mmishow@semissourian.com

(573) 335-6611, extension 132

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