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25 May 2007
JSU Makes Statement with 10-run Inning
in OVC Tournament Opening Victory

By Al Muskewitz
Star Sports Writer

Reprinted here in its entirety.

Jacksonville State players congratulate Clay Whittemore (7) and Nick Cleckler (behind, left) Thursday during the Gamecocks' 10-run sixth inning against Southeast Missouri. JSU won the game, its OVC Tournament opener, 15-2. Photo: Steve Latham/Jacksonville State University.

PADUCAH, Ky. — There's just something about the first game in the Ohio Valley Conference tournament that does something to Jacksonville State's baseball team.

The Gamecocks typically are one of the best hitting teams in the league, and for four straight years now they've made a big statement the first time they step on the field.

The opponent may have been different Thursday, but the result was the same. The second-seeded Gamecocks buried Southeast Missouri 15-2 using a 10-run sixth inning to put the game out of reach.

In the last three years, the Gamecocks stomped Eastern Kentucky 15-0, 8-1 and 19-7. In sweeping through the tournament in three games last year, they put up 19, 17 and 8 runs.

“All four years I've been here we've played great in the first round,” senior third baseman Jake Ball said. “I think it's just a bunch of guys anxious to play.

“Every year, except my freshman year, we've had a bye in the first round. You sit one day and everybody's ready to play. We just got on them and stayed on them the whole time.”

The Gamecocks (32-25) showed no signs of rust. They pounded 17 hits off the first three of six SEMO pitchers. It was the 32nd time this year they've had 10 or more hits in a game and the 16th time against an OVC opponent.

Every spot in their lineup had at least one hit, and that was the seventh time this year that's happened. Ball and Bert Smith each had three. Nick Cleckler, Brian Piazza and Josh Sanders all had two.

“I'm happy we could come out and make a statement about our offense and let everyone know we're coming to play,” senior first baseman Allen Rose said. “I think we always have something to prove, especially when we were in first place throughout the season and finished second; I think we had a little something to prove.”

The Gamecocks were already up 5-1 when they came to the plate for what became the biggest inning in their history under coach Jim Case.

They had scored nine runs twice in an inning earlier this year - against Northwestern State and Tennessee Tech - but never turned over the scoreboard. There is no space on the Brooks Stadium scoreboard for a double-digit inning, so it looked strange when the Gamecocks' line read “020 300 - 15.”

Their first 11 batters reached base and the first seven got hits - three via bunts against a SEMO infield playing back.

Ball, the Gamecocks' all-time hits leader, had a pair of two-run singles in the inning. In between, Rose belted a bases-loaded triple to break open the game.

“You get to a point where nobody wants to make the last out or nobody wants to make the first out,” Case said. “When you get things going like that, there's a momentum that comes with it. The confidence was just really flowing, and we were able to keep it going.”

The triple was Rose's first career hit in the OVC Tournament. He made two plate appearances last year and walked both times. This time, he ripped a 3-2 pitch from Lance Rhodes into the gap in right center to clear the bases, give the Gamecocks a 10-1 lead and chase the SEMO reliever.

“I knew (Rhodes) wasn't probably going to throw off speed because he didn't want to walk me; he couldn't get his off speed stuff over,” Rose said. “I was looking for a fastball in, reacted to it and put a good swing on it.

“Initially off the bat I thought 'grand slam,' then when I saw it hit, I thought, 'Let me hustle because coach Case doesn't play that lolly-gagging around.' You've got to hustle at all time.”

The Gamecocks weren't finished after Rose cleared the bases. Piazza greeted the new SEMO pitcher, Brent Lawson, with an RBI double. Smith singled in a run, Ball singled home two and another scored on an error.

SEMO did actually lead in the game at one time. The Redhawks (32-23) reached Tony Drinkard for a run in the second inning, but the Gamecocks lefthander was virtually unhittable until after the big inning.

Drinkard went seven innings, allowing four hits and two earned runs. He faced the minimum number of hitters from the Redhawks' one-out run-scoring double in the second to the seventh inning. Clark Jinks and Josh Miller each pitched an inning in relief.

JSU took the lead for good in the bottom of the second on an RBI double by Richard Turner and Kyle McCreary's run-scoring single. The Gamecocks added three more in the fourth on Josh Sanders' RBI single and a two-run double by Cleckler.

“I think the guys were really excited to get going,” Case said. “(A first-round bye) is a good thing, but that sitting the day before, sometimes you get a little antsy. You're wanting to play, other people are playing, I think they were excited to get going.

“We took advantage of the opportunities, and the big thing to me was we were able to keep adding, to keep going. It was just a great day for us from that standpoint.”

Jacksonville St. vs. Austin Peay
Today at 6:30 p.m. on 91.9 FM

About Al Muskewitz

Al Muskewitz covers golf and Jacksonville State University sports teams for The Star.

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