Weekend @ MU: Diplomas, Dimples and Diamonds

It was more "Cap and Gown" than cap and ball for Marshall University this weekend, as MU graduated the 167th class of the school that began as Marshall Academy in 1837. The athletic department, however, still had games to be played in the Mid-American Conference races for men's golf, baseball and softball on the second weekend of May and some of the results were not as happy as many graduates (and their parents!) were on Saturday afternoon after getting MU diplomas.

First off, however, on Friday, Marshall's Men's Golf team used strong play from two individual golfers to finish fifth with a team total of 888 at the MAC Men's Golf Tournament, held in Westerville, Ohio. Marshall, which was eighth after day one of the competition, moved up behind sixth-place individual finishes by Huntington senior Brad Spensky and freshman Shawn Warren to finish only one stroke behind fourth-place Ball State (887) and eight shots back of third place Kent State (880). Toledo won the MAC champship for the second time in three year with a score of 867, while Ohio finished second by shooting 876, up five places, like the Herd, from its seventh-place finish in 2003. Other Marshall players included junior Brad Tweel (228), senior Ben Minyard (230) and sophomore Jeremy Graham (234).

Spensky (73-69-75, 217), who was tied for first after day two, was named First Team All-MAC. He is Marshall's first All-Mid-American Conference First Team selection since Ken Bowen earned those honors for Marshall in 1968 (Marshall in MAC from fall of 1953 until spring of 1969, then rejoined in fall of 1997). Warren (77-70-70, 217) was named to the Second Team All-MAC, the first Marshall player honored there since Sam O'Dell in 2000. Spensky was 16th in the 2002 MAC Tournament, missing all of last season with back problems, while Marshall was 10th of 10 golfing-MAC schools last year.

In Softball, Marshall came up just short on making the MAC Tournament (which starts Wednesday) by losing to East Division champion Kent State, 8-5. Marshall had kept hopes alive with a doubleheader sweep of the Golden Flashes on Saturday in a double shutout, 2-0 and 8-0. The loss on Senior Day was particularly tough as Bowling Green lost to West Division leader Central Michigan by 3-2 and Marshall would have grabbed the sixth-seed in the tournament with a win by owning the tie-breaker with the Falcons.

In game one, starter Randy Nielson pitched a seven inning, two hit shutout of Kent State to win her 13th game. Amanda Williams, MU's all-time career runs-batted-in leader, had a two-run single in the second to give Nielson all the runs she needed. In game two, MU mercied Kent State in five innings with three runs in the third and five in the fifth inning to make a winner of freshman starter Abigail Harter, who improved to 7-7 in her first season at Marshall. The left-hander also only allowed two hits to the Flashes while senior Sierra Davenport was 2-of-3, as was junior catcher Allison Webb. Webb, a native of nearby Wayne, WV, started in 34 games in 2001 as a freshman, took a medical red-shirt in 2002 and then rebounded to start 52 games in 2003 and hit .282 last season. Webb completed her degree in biology/pre-medicine this spring and was presented her diploma at home plate before the start of the doubleheader, while other MU grads were finishing up with ceremonies at Big Sandy Superstore Arena.

Sunday, Marshall's hopes for returning to the MAC Tournament were stopped almost before fans had settled into their seats as Kent State scored five runs in the top of the first to knock out Nielson (13-17) in two-thirds of an inning. Nielson finished the season four games under .500, despite a earned-run-average of 1.67, and none of the five runs in the first were earned as Marshall committed three errors in the inning and four in the game. Marshall, who was the pre-season favorite to win the MAC East Division, rallied for four runs in the third to pull within one run of the Kent lead. The Flashes answered Marshall's challenge, however, with two more runs in the fourth and one in the fifth to lead 8-4 and MU would push only one more run across in the bottom of the seventh. It was a dissapointing end to the career of seniors Sarah Chamberlain, Sarah Wilson and Davenport, as MU finished 31-27, 12-12 in the MAC, after posting a 41-17 mark, 20-4 in the league, and winning the MAC Regular Season Championship in 2003.

Marshalll Baseball was rained out Friday but rained on Akron's parade on Saturday, sweeping a doubleheader from the Zips 8-3 and 13-4. Designated hitter Corie O'Bryan homered in each game and drove in three runs, while centerfielder Chris Monaco stole a base in each game to lead MU to the wins, ensuring Marshall of winning its second MAC series of the year and winning the series with the Zips for the second-consecutive season. MU is 10-8 against Akron since re-joining the MAC in the spring of 1998 and is 10-4 since the 1999 season against UA.

Huntington sophomore Chris Cummings (3-3) pitched five innings and gave up three runs on five hits. Senior Steve Ziroli picked up a save with four innings of three-hit, no-run baseball in game one. Monaco's two steals give him 32 on the season and he needs only one to tie the single-season mark at MU, set by Aaron Williams with 33 in 1999. In game two on Saturday, sophomore Chris Koutsavlis improved to 3-5 with seven innings of two-run, four-hit baseball while Marshall's offense pushed five runs across in the first and second innings. The Herd then added seven more runs in the seventh. Marshall had 15 hits, 14 of which were singles, and had 26 runners on base in the contest (with eight bases-on-balls and three hit-batsmen).

Akron returned the favor to Marshall on Sunday, beating the Herd 13-1. Marshall left nine runners on base in the contest, wasting a 2-for-4 effort by second baseman Aaron Jamieson as well as doubles by third baseman Adam Frederick and outfielder Joe Glevenyak. The loser was Herd freshman Brian Chrisman, who falls to 3-3 on the year. MU senior Chris Meadows, who leads Marshall with five saves, made his 92nd appearance all-time in the game and is now just one more appearance from tying the MAC record, set by Ball State pitcher Matt Speicher (1996-99).

Marshall baseball will travel to play those same Cardinals this weekend for three MAC games in Muncie, Indiana, but will hookup with regional rival Eastern Kentucky on Tuesday at University Heights in Huntington at 3:00 p.m. for one nine-inning game. MU will finish the year next week with a Wednesday, May 19, game at EKU in Richmond, Kentucky, and then three with the Bulls of the University At Buffalo to close out the MAC play and the 2004 season at the Heights on May 21-22-23. The Friday game is 3:00 p.m. and the weekend games are at 1:00 p.m. The Saturday game with UB will be on WRVC 930 AM while the Sunday affair will be Senior Day for O'Brien, Meadows, Ziroli, outfielder Francois Larmore, shortstop Mike Koitsopoulos and pitchers Grant Harper, Patrick Molinari and Fritz Conrad.

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