Facing elimination, Bonilla called this one perfectly

Sunday, May 26, 2002

PADUCAH, Ky. -- After Southeast Missouri State University suffered an upset loss to Murray State in Thursday's second round of the Ohio Valley Conference Baseball Tournament, senior second baseman Clemente Bonilla looked me square in the eye and said confidently that the Indians would still win the championship.

I admired Bonilla's bravado. And really, I expected nothing less from a gutsy four-year starter who was not only last season's OVC Player of the Year but also serves as one of the Indians' true team leaders.

Still, realizing how tough it is to battle out of the loser's bracket, I knew the Indians faced a huge uphill climb no matter how confident they were.

But coach Mark Hogan prided himself all season on the Indians' grit and resiliency, saying many times how this team is full of never-say-die battlers. And that trait came to the forefront Friday and Saturday as the Indians backed up Bonilla's words by capturing the tournament title.

It was quite an emotional scene Saturday night after Southeast's 13-1 victory over Tennessee Tech in the championship game. Following the Indians' third straight tournament triumph, they embraced and piled on top of one another on the Brooks Stadium field.

But who could blame the Indians? They pulled off quite a feat after appearing all but buried just two days earlier. And now they're going to the NCAA Tournament for just the second time as a Division I program.

I wrote it a few weeks ago and I'm writing it again. Hogan, who has built quite a program in his eight years at Southeast, is a class act, as are his assistant coaches, and the same goes for the players, who for the most part seem like really good guys. The Indians are the kind of team that makes it easy to root for.

Congratulations to everybody involved with the squad and good luck in the NCAA regionals this week.

Every OVC team that advances to the NCAA Tournament is a big underdog, but several conference squads have fared relatively well in regional play.

The only other time Hogan led the Indians into the NCAA field, in 1998, they were eliminated in two games. But Southeast's strong and suddenly deep pitching staff could help make the Tribe a dangerous postseason club.

What a great four days of baseball in Paducah. The weather couldn't have been better, Brooks Stadium is an impressive facility with a great playing field and most of the games were outstanding, including several ninth-inning rallies.

It was a treat being there -- and to think, I got paid for it.

Is this a great country, or what?

Turning to a little high school baseball, congratulations and good luck to Notre Dame, Oran and Sikeston as they compete in the state's final four this coming week in Columbia.

And finally, for some high school track and field.

What a performance by Jackson's Mario Whitney at the state meet Saturday. Super Mario solidified his status as Missouri's fastest prep athlete by blazing to 100-meter and 200-meter titles, including a Class 4A record in the 200.

Marty Mishow is a sports writer for the Southeast Missourian.

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