Marshall will not make the Mid-American Conference Tournament, starting Wednesday at Central Michigan, as the Herd got off to a 1-7 start that led to a 10-13 mark in the league (still, the second-most MAC wins in MU baseball history). The teams making the tournament are breathing a sigh of relief however, over the fact that MU is staying home. The Herd won 8-of-10 games down the stretch, winning the final four MAC games in a row, and was 7-2 against the MAC over the last three weekends. Marshall also had to play five of the six teams in the MAC tournament, as the Herd drew one of the toughest league slates of all with games with CMU (league regular-season champ) and Miami (East Division champ) at home while going on the road to Kent State (second in East), Eastern Michigan and Ball State (both tied for second in West).
Still, it was Senior Day on Sunday as the Herd looked to complete the three-game sweep over the Buffalo Bulls (winning 8-4 Friday and 9-2 on Saturday). The Herd introduced its seniors before the game: starting pitcher Grant Harper, reliever Scott Henning, shortstop Mike Koitsopoulos, leftfielder Francois Larmore, reliever Patrick Molinari, first baseman/designated hitter Corie O'Bryan and reliever Steve Ziroli. The MU seniors made it their mission, by and large, to win this game and help to continue the growth of the Marshall baseball program under head coach Dave Piepenbrink, head coach of the team since mid-way in the 1998 season (the first year back in the MAC).
Harper, from nearby Grayson, Kentucky, pitched a magnificent game, giving Marshall six and two-thirds innings of eight-hit, one-run baseball. The former honorable mention Freshman All-American would pick up the win, giving him his team-leading sixth win against four losses. It was also his 19th career win, tying Harper for first in wins by a Marshall pitcher all-time with Albie DeYoung, who pitched from 1975-78. "I just tried to go out and have a good game," said Harper after the win. "I don't really know how to put it into words, as far as this being my last game. It was a long career that went by very fast, if that makes sense." Harper was less happy about the career win mark than the direction the Herd senior's had given the program with the 2004 year.
"The program is on the way up. The records great, but with the young pitchers on our staff, like (freshmen) Brian Chrisman (4-3) and (sophomore) Chris Koutsavlis (4-5; career 9-8), I think 19 wins will be passed very soon," said Harper. "I think we, the seniors, have got the program headed in the right direction and those young guys will just have to take it from here." Harper's start in the game also tied him for first in that category with 45 in his career (tying b>J.R. Watts, who pitched from 1995-98). Harper finished one-third of an inning behind Watts for all-time innings pitched, 299.1 to 299.2, his 194 career strikeouts are fifth all-time at Marshall and his 62 games played in are fourth-most at Marshall.
The senior relief corps picked up Harper from the middle of the seventh on. Henning came on in a one-on, one-out situation and retired Buffalo in the seventh on a strikeout and groundout. Ziroli, maybe Marshall's most effective relief pitcher down the stretch, pitched a one-two-three eighth inning before giving way to Meadows in the ninth. The Herd's career saves leader (14) and single-season record save holder (6, 2003; 5, 2004, is tied with three others for second), closed the game out with his Marshall and MAC record 95th career appearance, getting two groundouts and seeing Bulls centerfielder Brian Zelasko being thrown out at third by Herd catcher Rich Russell to end the game with two-on and two-out. Russell finished second on the team in batting average, hitting .333, a jump of .127 from his .216 average as a freshman.
But senior pitchers were not the only heroes on Sunday. O'Bryan was 2-for-2 as the DH, with two runs-batted-in on the day. Larmore reached twice , but was stranded at third in both the first (walk) and in the seventh (hit by a pitch). Biggest of all was Koitsopoulos' two-out RBI single in the seventh, after Buffalo had pulled to a 2-1 deficeit in the top of the sixth inning. "Koit had the big hit when we needed one," said Piepenbrink. "It's always emotional on senior day and we came out a little flat after the ceremony, but we got great pitching from the seniors. It was a great way for all of our seniors to end their careers and I liked the way we played down the stretch."
Molinari was the only senior not to play Sunday, but he pitched a scoreless one-two-three ninth on Saturday in the Herd win. Koitsopoulos finshed his career number five in at bats (553), number eight in hits (163), ninth in runs scored (100) and number ten in games played (153). Larmore is in the top 20 in total bases (239) in just two seasons and fifth all-time in strikeouts (95; Larmore's 52 K in 2004 is second all-time in a season to Craig Dziedziejko's 54 in 2003), despite hitting .329 in 2003 and .313 this year, a career .321 batting average at Marshall. O'Bryan was even better, hitting .376 last year, .303 this year and .340 for his career, and his 76 hits last year were the fourth-most in school history.
In addition, junior Chris Monaco picked up his Marshall record 40th stolen base this season, passing former record holder Aaron Williams (33 in 1999) by seven. Monaco only needs 19 in his senior year of 2005 to tie Williams's for the career steals mark at MU and his 40 this year is the sixth-most steals in any MAC season as well as the first time someone has had at least 40 steals in the league since Marshall joined the league. Monaco's 45 strikeouts on the season is third-most at Marshall and if he can cut down in that area, he might challenge for the national stolen base title in 2005. Monaco also made a over-the-shoulder running catch in centerfield that turned into a 8-3-1 double play, preventing Buffalo from scoring more than one run in the sixth inning.
Other marks for the season include sophomore third baseman Adam Frederick leading the Herd in hitting with a .374 average. His 77 hits this year are the third-most in any MU single season. 54 games played in a season are the fourth-most in school history and 2004 marked the second-consecutive year at 54 for Larmore and O'Brien. Junior rightfielderJoe Glevenyak, who raised his average to .293 with a 1-for-3 Sunday, and Frederick (1-4) played 54 as well and Koitsopoulos played 53 in 2004 after having 54 in 2003. Harper recorded the only shutout for Marshall in 2004, beating Eastern Kentucky 11-0 on May 11, while Henning had the only complete game when he beat Morehead State 5-1 back on April 6 (in seven inninngs). The Herd set team marks for at bats (1,836), stolen bases (100), hit-by-pitch (71) and total sacrifices (39). The pitchers set records for strikeouts (416) and innings pitched (466.2) on the year. Meadows (five saves) and Ziroli (2) combined for the second-most saves in a season in school history. Dave Piepenbrink is the second winningest coach in the history of the MU program, now having recorded 132 wins since mid-way through the 1998 season (Jack Cook leads at Marshall, with 422 wins from 1955; 1967-89). Piepenbrink raised his winning percentage 29 points with this season, up to .379 overall.
While 27 wins is a tie for the most all-time, 27 losses is tied for ninth-most by any team at Marshall (13-27, in 1993). Since 1990 (20-19), 2004 is the third season MU has had without a losing record including a 23-20 record in 1994, over the past 16 seasons. Marshall had lost at least 29 games in each season since 1994, with a all-time worst 43-loss season in 1999.