Panthers creeping up in OVC Standings

Bob Reynolds, Sports Editor

Despite the rough start to the season, the Eastern baseball teams’ OVC tournament hopes are alive and kickin’.

The Panthers are 6-15 in the conference and only four games behind sixth place Belmont.

Eastern has three remaining conference series against Morehead State, Tennessee-Martin and Southern Illinois Edwardsville.

After starting 0-11 in the OVC play, the Panthers have won two-straight OVC series against Belmont and Eastern Kentucky.

“We have just been playing solid all-around baseball,” Eastern senior second baseman Dane Sauer said. “It’s been fun to be apart of.”

Since the Panthers ended their 23 game losing streak to start the season, they have won 10 of their last 16 games, including mixing in a 4-game win streak two weeks ago.

Currently, Eastern has won its last 3-of-4 games, including scoring 35 runs in the three wins. The pitching staff has only allowed 14 runs in the three wins.

Eastern is coming off a 13-4 win over St. Louis University, who it lost to earlier in the season.

Eastern senior pitcher Andrew Grahn picked up his second win of the season after pitching six innings and allowing one run on four hits.

The Panthers’ bats stayed alive in the win Tuesday. Eastern scored 13 runs on 17 hits.

Eastern’s top of the order of freshman Joe Duncan, Sauer and senior Caleb Howell went 9-for-14 with four runs batted in and four runs scored.

The Panthers head to Morehead State for a three-game weekend series starting Friday. Sauer said winning game one against the three seed in the conference would be a big momentum boost for the rest of the series.

“It’s definitely going to be important especially with them being at the top of the conference,” he said. “A win on Friday would be a huge momentum shift.”

Southeast Missouri has a four-game lead on second place Southern Illinois Edwardsville.

The Redhawks are 19-5 in the conference and have won their last 9-of-10 games, which includes two three-game series sweeps against conference rival Murray State and Jacksonville State over the past couple of weeks.

Southeast Missouri has won every three-game series played this season against an OVC series team.

Morehead State, Austin Peay, Tennessee State and Belmont round out the next four teams that are currently locked into a postseason tournament berth.

With the Panthers’ tournament bid not out of sight, Sauer said it gives the team a ton of extra motivation to go to the ballpark each and every day.

“That’s the reason you’re playing,” he said. “Everyone’s goal should be to make the tournament. It’s all about getting hot at the right time.”

For the sixth year in a row, the OVC Baseball Championship will be at The Ballpark in Jackson in Jackson, Tenn.

The tournament will start May 20 and run to May 24. It is a double-elimination tournament, so teams would be able to lose one game and have a chance to win the title.

Last season, the Panthers defeated Jacksonville State 2-1 in the first round of the tournament.

Eastern would drop the next two games to Southeast Missouri in the second round of the tournament, and then the Panthers fell to Jacksonville State 1-3 to end their 2014 season.

Jacksonville State would end up winning the conference tournament after a 4-2 win over Tennessee Tech.

Bob Reynolds can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected].