Indians shift focus to region, high Tide

Friday, May 31, 2002

Playing the nation's sixth-ranked college baseball team on its home field -- where it's 33-2 this season -- would seem like an insurmountable challenge.

But Southeast Missouri State University doesn't appear to be buying into it heading into today's NCAA regional tournament game against Alabama at Tuscaloosa, Ala.

"We've played in tough situations before and competed well," Southeast pitching ace Brad Purcell said. "We're confident. We can win the regional."

The Indians (36-18) face the Crimson Tide (48-13) at 6:30 p.m., following a game between Florida Atlantic (43-18) and Auburn (34-24) at 1:30 p.m. The double-elimination event continues Saturday and concludes Sunday.

Alabama is the top regional seed and a No. 3 national seed in the 64-team field. Auburn is seeded second in the regional, followed by Florida Atlantic and Southeast.

While respectful of Alabama, coach Mark Hogan said the Indians won't be in awe today when the regional event --one of 16 in the nation -- begins.

"Alabama has a tremendous baseball program, one of the best in the nation year in and year out," Hogan said. "They've got a tremendous facility and their fan support is unbelievable. Just about the whole stadium is probably going to be against us.

"But our players won't be overwhelmed by the situation. We'll be able to handle it just fine."

Hogan beefed up Southeast's schedule this year, having the Indians play on the road against Wichita State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Arkansas.

"We're not a team that just got hot -- we've been playing good baseball for a couple of months," Hogan said. "And we played a rigorous schedule that has prepared us for this point."

More than 5,000 fans are expected to file into Sewell-Thomas Stadium for today's game.

Hogan, while not expecting Alabama to totally disregard Southeast, said the Crimson Tide could look ahead to a potential matchup with in-state rival Auburn.

"Alabama won't disregard us, but everybody in the state wants Alabama and Auburn to play. It's like a civil war," Hogan said. "I'm sure they'll think we're going to come down there and be intimidated. I think it's a great opportunity for us to sneak up on them and pull off a great upset."

To have a chance at shocking Alabama, Southeast must handle a stellar pitching staff that has the nation's 12th-best earned-run average (3.54). Lance Cormier (10-3, 3.24) is considered the Crimson Tide's ace, but Shane Sanders (8-3, 3.38) is expected to start tonight. Both are right-handers.

"They've got some real good arms," Hogan said. "A 3.54 ERA is unheard of for aluminum bats. And they'll have a great lineup one through nine. If you make mistakes they'll make you pay."

Alabama has a .313 batting average, led by Grant Redding (.427) and Peter Stonard (.409). The Crimson Tide have hit 64 home runs, paced by Scott McClanahan (14, 60 RBIs), Jeremy Brown (11, 58 RBIs) and Beau Hearod (10, 49 RBIs).

"If we don't play well, we'll get blown out," Hogan said. "If we go in there and play a good game, A-plus or A-minus, we'll be right in there."

Purcell (12-2, 3.19), the OVC Pitcher of the Year, and fellow senior right-hander Brandon Smith (11-2, 4.15) have headed up Southeast's staff all year. Purcell figures to get the nod against Alabama, although Hogan said there is a chance Smith would go if Purcell is not fully recovered after a big workload in the OVC Tournament.

As for the other teams in the regional -- win or lose tonight, the Indians will play either Auburn or Florida Atlantic on Saturday -- Hogan said they don't lag far behind Alabama.

"Florida Atlantic is really tough. They're a great club that gets lost in the shuffle in their state with Florida State, Florida and Miami, he said. "And Auburn will be a tremendous club. It's a really tough regional."

mmishow@semissourian.com (573) 335-6611, extension 132

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