Indians are OVC champs, earn spot in NCAA tournament

Sunday, May 26, 2002

PADUCAH, Ky. -- Southeast Missouri State University didn't go through the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament without a loss.

But the Indians left little doubt they were the best team in the field.

The top-seeded Indians, after falling into the loser's bracket Thursday, stormed back with three straight victories, capped by Saturday's 13-1 rout of fifth-seeded Tennessee Tech for the championship. Southeast won its final two games by a combined 22-3, including a 9-2 defeat of the Eagles on Friday.

For the second time as Division I program, the Indians (36-18) are headed to the NCAA Tournament. They'll learn their regional assignment Monday when the entire 64-team NCAA field is announced.

"We wanted to show we're the best team in the conference," said senior second baseman Clemente Bonilla. "We brought our 'A' game tonight and it's an awesome feeling."

Bonilla was voted the tournament's MVP. Five Indians were picked for the all-tournament team.

"I've experienced championships, but nothing like this, where the game is such a blowout," Southeast coach Mark Hogan said. "Offense, defense, pitching -- what a performance. We put on a tremendous show."

After winning two elimination games Friday, nothing could slow down the Indians Saturday, not a Tech squad that survived Saturday's first contest 11-10 over Eastern Illinois, or a rain delay of more than an hour.

By the time the downpour came in the bottom of the third inning, the Indians led 7-0 and the Eagles (29-27) were already starting to drag.

The delay did little to slow down Southeast ace Brad Purcell (12-2), the OVC Pitcher of the Year who regained the league lead in wins from teammate Brandon Smith (11-2).

Purcell, working on two days rest after pitching eight innings in Wednesday's victory over Morehead State, went 6 2/3 innings Saturday, allowing one run and five hits, with nine strikeouts and one walk.

Purcell was still going strong, retiring the first two batters in the seventh, before Hogan -- with one eye on the NCAA regional that begins Thursday -- lifted him in favor of Mark Frazier. Purcell, an all-tournament selection, left the mound to a roar from the more than 100 Southeast fans in attendance.

"I was a little tired, as expected, but the guys did all the work with those runs," Purcell said. "It's a fantastic feeling to win the tournament and go to the regional. I can't explain it."

Frazier, who turned in his third strong relief performance of the tournament, allowed three hits in 2 1/3 scoreless innings, with four strikeouts and no walks. Frazier did not give up an earned run in seven tournament innings.

"Mark does a great job no matter what kind of situation we put him in," Hogan said. "And what can you say about Brad -- he was tremendous."

Southeast had 16 hits, led by Bonilla's 4-for-4 performance. McDonald had three hits while Denver Stuckey and Brian Hopkins added two apiece. Hopkins drove in three runs; McDonald and Borowiak each had two RBIs. Eight of the Indians' nine starters hit safely.

"We hit the ball up and down the lineup," Borowiak said. "We really put it together."

As was the case against Tech Friday night, when Southeast handed the Eagles their first tournament loss, the Indians jumped on top with a two-run first inning. Bonilla doubled with one out and scored on Hopkins' single. With two outs, McDonald delivered an RBI single.

"In a tournament like this, it's real important to score early," Bonilla said.

A five-run second inning by the Indians was the blow Tech could not recover from. Hopkins drove in two with a single, McDonald had an RBI single, Borowiak added a sacrifice fly and Vern Hatton thrilled the Southeast crowd by stealing home, making it 7-0. Hatton scored three runs and was Southeast's fifth all-tournament pick.

"I've been wanting to steal home all year. I've been bugging coach Southard about it," said a smiling Hatton, referring to the Indians' third-base coach Scott Southard. "I couldn't believe it when he let me go. It was great."

After that, it was simply a matter of what the final score would be. Tech got its lone run in the fourth inning and the Indians made things a total blowout with two apiece in the fifth, sixth and eighth.

"What a tremendous accomplishment, to win the regular-season championship and tournament championship," Hogan said. "And what a great group of guys to do it with. They should really be proud."

About the only thing wrong with the whole picture, according to Hogan, was that Jody Gajewski could not be a part of it. Gajewski, a transfer from St. Louis University, was killed in an car accident last September.

"There are a lot of happy faces out here," Hogan said as he surveyed the Indians' on-field celebration. "But we went through a lot after Jody died and we really miss him. This is a nice dedication to him."

mmishow@semissourian.com

(573) 355-6611, extension 132

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