Southeast Missouri State University's baseball team was talented this season, although coach Mark Hogan said it wasn't the most talented squad he's had in Cape Girardeau.
But that talent, blended with great chemistry and heart, took the Indians to new heights.
"I would challenge next year's club to be as close as this group was," Hogan said. "We had adequate talent, but they had such a great heart and wonderful togetherness."
Before Hogan was hired eight years ago, no Southeast baseball team won more than 30 games in a season and that had happened only once.
The Indians under Hogan have surpassed that figure five times, twice topping out at a school-record 37 victories, including this year's team that went 37-20, won the program's first Ohio Valley Conference regular-season championship and won its first NCAA Division I Tournament game.
Southeast, in its second NCAA appearance, stunned sixth-ranked Alabama in the regional Friday in Tuscaloosa, Ala. The Indians were eliminated Saturday with back-to-back losses to Florida Atlantic and Alabama.
"It was a tremendous season in every way," Hogan said. "I knew this would be a special club. I felt it in the fall. In many ways, it was just a dream season.
"Getting our first regional win over Alabama, we'll be viewed differently on the national scene now. This group has set the bar higher for the groups that follow."
The Indians had seven seniors this year, five of them being primary contributors. Southeast had two senior position players, and both -- second baseman Clemente Bonilla and center fielder Vern Hatton -- will be tough to replace.
Bonilla, a four-year starter, ranks high on many of the school's record lists. The OVC career walks leader, Bonilla batted .347 this year, fourth-best on the team.
Hatton, a two-year starter after transferring from junior college, was a defensive whiz while leading the Indians in hitting (.369), runs batted in (58) and triples (9, school record).
While losing Bonilla and Hatton, the Indians are scheduled to return .300-plus hitters in junior catcher Tristen McDonald (.353), junior third baseman Denver Stuckey (.349), junior shortstop Zach Borowiak (.324) and junior left fielder Brian Hopkins (.317). McDonald led the Indians in home runs (10).
"We've got a good nucleus coming back," Hogan said. "We lose two special players and it's going to take time to sort those positions out."
A strong possibility to replace Bonilla is Dave Lawson (.299), who served primarily as the Indians' designated hitter.
Among center-field candidates are sophomore Brice Nicholas and junior Ryan Govek, who split time in right field. Former Notre Dame High School slugger Josh Eftink, who showed flashes in limited playing time as a redshirt freshman, could also figure into the mix somewhere.
The pitching staff will take more of a graduation hit since co-aces Brad Purcell (12-2, 3.38 earned-run average) and Brandon Smith (12-2, 4.31) depart. They tied the school's single-season victory record and led the OVC.
Southeast loses one other key hurler in reliever Mark Frazier, who led the OVC in saves with five and had three wins.
But junior left-hander Tim Alvarez (5-1, 2.95), the Indians' No. 3 starter, led the OVC in ERA and junior right-hander Donnie Fuller (3-2, 4.56) was arguably the Indians' most effective pitcher late in the season.
Several other returning hurlers had their moments but found opportunities limited on a staff that was by far the best in the OVC.
"We lose good pitchers, but the same thing happened last year," Hogan said. "What Alvarez and Fuller did the second half of the season is really encouraging and we've signed some good pitchers. I really feel like we've satisfied our pitching questions."
Hogan said the Indians are still in the process of signing players for next season and their regional showing should help their cause.
(573) 335-6611, extension 132