Holst, Gagan lead Southeast Missouri State baseball past Eastern Kentucky in series opener
After returning home from a seven-game road trip, the Southeast Missouri State baseball team showed Thursday that it's ready for the postseason.
Dan Holst and Tristen Gagan combined for three home runs and 11 RBIs, as the Redhawks combined for 15 hits in a 14-6 win over Eastern Kentucky in the opener of a three-game Ohio Valley Conference series at Capaha Field.
Gagan had two home runs and five RBIs, while Holst went 2-for-5 with a grand slam and six runs driven in.
"There's no better time to get hot than right before the tournament starts, so this is a great start for the series," Gagan said. "If we can just keep building off this, who knows what can happen in the tournament? I think we can have a really good chance."
With the win, Southeast (26-24, 14-14 OVC) secured its spot in the OVC Tournament and is currently fifth in the standings. The Redhawks would open the tourney against Jacksonville State if the season ended today.
Brian Lees and Danny Wright each added three hits for Southeast, while Kyle Bottger contributed a pair of singles.
"There were a lot of good at-bats that set some innings up, but we finished them off tonight with some big swings. With Gagan's two [home runs] and Danny's grand slam, that's a lot of RBIs just on three swings," Redhawks coach Andy Sawyers said. "Sometimes it happens that way, and sometimes you've got to get a bunch of hits to score a bunch of runs. Tonight our guys had a chance at the big swing, and they did it. Our runs came in bunches."
After an RBI single by Nick Howie gave EKU (24-30, 10-18) a one-run lead in the top of the first inning, the Redhawks scored six runs on five hits to take the lead for good in the bottom of the frame.
Chris Osborne reached on a one-out single before Gagan lifted a two-run homer over the fence in center to give Southeast a 2-1 advantage. Lees followed with a single up the middle before Wright drew a walk to set up Clayton Evans, who drove in Lees on a single to left. Connor Basler drew a walk to load the bases for Bottger, who drew a walk to send Wright home and give the Redhawks a 4-1 lead. With two outs, Holst drove in two more on a single through the right side, as Southeast led 6-1 heading to the second.
"We expect to score early in the game. Our kids are pretty good, especially in the first inning," Sawyers said. "They just kind of come to expect a little bit of that right now."
The Redhawks got another big inning in the bottom of the fourth, as Chris Caffrey led off with a double to center. Lees followed with a single before Wright drove in Caffrey to extend SEMO's lead to 7-1. Basler reached on a walk to load the bases for Holst, who blistered a grand slam to right-center that gave the Redhawks an 11-1 lead.
"I knew going into the at-bat that he was going to try to get ahead of me with the bases loaded, so I was just looking for the first pitch I could handle," Holst said. "He gave it to me, 1-0, so I was just trying to be on time and put a good swing on it."
A two-run homer by Ben Fisher pulled the Colonels within 11-3 in the top of the fifth, and EKU tacked on three more runs on five hits in the sixth to cut their deficit to five runs.
Redhawks starting pitcher Justin Murphy was knocked out of the game in the sixth. Murphy (7-3) was credited with the win after pitching 5 2/3 innings, during which he allowed six earned runs on 11 hits. He struck out four batters and walked one.
Holst believes Murphy deserved better from his defense, as the Redhawks committed two of their three errors with Murphy on the mound.
"There were a couple of plays we should've made," Holst said. "If we make those plays and get him off the field, he doesn't have those 20-, 25-pitch innings. That sucks a lot of energy and focus out of you, especially with runners on base while you're making those high-octane pitches. I thought we just had to do a better job.
"He was great. He might not have had his best stuff, but he battled and competed. I thought he looked outstanding."
SEMO's bullpen held the Colonels in check the rest of the way.
After Daniel Bergtholdt was unable to record the final out of the inning, Jared Waldhoff came on in relief to retire the side. He threw a scoreless seventh before Blaze Hastings pitched the final two innings, allowing just one hit.
"The thing for me tonight is that our pitchers did such a good job of avoiding the big inning," Sawyers said. "Nobody was really super sharp tonight. It wasn't Murphy's best command or his best stuff, but he did a good job of navigating a lot of base runners and avoiding big innings. And the bullpen did the same. Waldhoff did a good job getting off the field, and then Blaze Hastings had to pitch around some base runners.
"I thought the pitchers just did a good job of minimizing the damage and avoiding the big inning."
In the bottom of the seventh, Gagan increased the Redhawks' lead to 14-6 with one swing. On a 3-2 pitch, the junior first baseman sent a three-run homer to left-center, tallying his team-high 12th long ball of the year.
"Beefy's got some juice, and it's looking good," Holst said about Gagan. "He's heating up at the right time. He had a great weekend last weekend. He might not have gotten the results he wanted last weekend, but he hit the ball all over the field hard. Tonight it showed. He got rewarded for putting in the hard work and making great swings. He's a huge part of our team just collecting RBIs in the middle of that order."
Casey Collins (2-2) got the start for EKU and was tagged with the loss after lasting only 2/3 of an inning. He gave up six earned runs on four hits, finishing with one strikeout and two walks. Brian Mroz gave up two runs on six hits in 2 1/3 innings of relief before Jack Piekos allowed three runs on two hits in one inning of relief.
Aaron Ochsenbein was the Colonels' most effective pitcher out of the bullpen. He struck out five batters and walked one but was tagged with three runs on two hits in 2 1/3 innings. Taylor Blair didn't allow a run in 2/3 of an inning, and Nick Laster pitched a scoreless ninth for EKU.
Shea Sullivan had three hits to lead the Colonels' offense, while Fisher finished with three RBIs on two hits, including a homer. Logan Starnes added a double and a single for EKU, while Howie and Daniel McFarland each had a pair of base hits.
Southeast will look to take the series in Game 2 at 6 p.m. today. The Redhawks will send Clay Chandler (7-3) to the mound, while the Colonels will go with Bryan Quillens (3-3). There will be a free tailgate for those in attendance.
Southeast will continue for the rest of the season without its star closer.
Carlos Vega won't be available after tweaking his elbow during a game against Jacksonville State on April 13.
Since the injury, Vega has appeared in five games, three of which he took the loss. The right-hander is 1-4 this season with a team-high six saves and a 3.82 ERA. He leads the Redhawks with 45 strikeouts and has issued 12 walks.
"He doesn't feel great about where his elbow's at, and we're not going to pitch him if he doesn't feel comfortable with it," Sawyers said. "So we're going to shut him down for the rest of the year."