Herd Opens Kent Series With Rare Win

It was game number 60 in the all-time series between the visitors from Kent State, the defending Mid-American Conference champion, and the home-standing Marshall Thundering Herd. Kent had won 42 of the previous 59 games and looked to be headed towards number 43 with a 5-4 lead in the eighth. But MU rallied for four runs in the bottom of the eighth and saw freshman David Slovak close the door on the Flashes in the ninth to pick up his first-ever save at Marshall in a 8-5 MU win.

Marshall improves to 4-3 in the MAC and is currently in second place in the MAC East behind Miami (17-11, 4-2 MAC), who is out-of-conference this weekend. Akron (10-16, 1-1) suffered its first loss in only its second league game at Ball State 4-3, and the Cardinals have won 11 in a row to go 7-0 in the MAC West, a league-best 19-9 overall. The Herd is now 5-2 at University Heights, 9-16 for the 2005 season, while Kent State fell to 16-11, 2-3 in MAC play, and lost its third game in a row. Marshall won the opening game in the Kent series for the first time since 1998, MU's first year back in the MAC, improving to 5-18 with the Flashes since re-entering the league, in Marshall's final season in the MAC before playing in Conference USA in 2006.

"Kent has had such great pitchers the last few years, we haven't even been in game one against their best starters," said MU coach Dave Piepenbrink following the win. That is born out over the last three years, where MU has lost game one to Kent by scores of 1-11 (2004); 5-23 ('03); and 0-13 ('02). "Kooter (Chris Koutsavlis) did a great job. We feel, stat-wise, we match up very well with Kent State this season." Koutsavlis pitched six innings and left with a 4-3 lead. Koutsavlis allowed eight hits, four runs, two walks and had five strikeouts. He gave way to junior Brian Knipplemeyer, who gave up a one-out, two-run homer by KSU's Andrew Davis. It was his third of the year and gives him a team second-best 24 runs-batted-in. "We saw Davis in high school and , like an idiot, I didn't grab him," said Piepenbrink of Kent's third baseman. "He's just a tough, scrappy player."

Marshall trailed by one going to the bottom of the second, when Kent first-year head coach Scott Stricklin pulled lefthanded starter Jason Brunke (7.0 innings, four runs, a walk and three strikeouts) and brought in Chad Wagler, who was 4-1 with a 2.05 earned run average to date. Catcher Nick Wolle was hit by a pitch for the third time this season, followed by center fielder Adam Ptacek (pronounced Pah-ta-CHECK) reaching on a bunt hit. Adam Frederick, the Herd's third baseman, picked up the tying run with a double to left field to tie the score at 5-5. Second baseman Aaron Jamieson snuck a RBI single through a drawn-in infield to give MU a 6-5 lead. With two outs, Aaron Levinson and Bubba Pfaff came up with back-to-back RBI singles to set the lead at 8-5.

Marshall then threw a curve at Kent by bringing a normally starting pitcher in freshman David Slovak in to pitch the ninth inning. Piepenbrink tipped his hat to pitching coach Tom Carty for his move with the side-winder Slovak. "Tom doesn't always get enough credit for the great job he does," sail Piepenbrink. "He told me we could still use David Sunday, if he had limited pitches out of the pen Friday or Saturday." Slovak was great as a closer, allowing a base hit, then getting a fly ball to right field and a double-play to finish off the Flashes. Slovak picked up his first save at MU. "Tom moved them around and it allowed us to bring (Brandon) Bump in a little earlier, in the eighth." Bump picked up the win to move to 2-2 with a scoreless eighth inning. Wagler took the loss and fell to 4-2.

The top four hitters in the Herd's lineup--Ptacek, Frederick, Jamieson and right fielder Joe Glevenyak--were 8-for-16 on the day. Glevenyak hit his team-leading sixth home run and 19th RBI, also leading the team, to lead off the fourth, while Ptacek was 3-of-4, including his first MU homer to drive in two in the third. Ptacek raised his average 22 points, to .283, with the big day at leadoff. "Adam had a tough week last week, against those big lefthanders at Miami," said Piepenbrink. "They are probably the best pitchers in the league, but we still have confidence in Adam to lead off for us." Left fielder Aaron Levinson raised his average to .431, which leads the MU team, with a 2-for-4 day that included his first double as a member of the Herd.

Marshall and Kent State will meet in game two at University Heights at 1:00 p.m. on Saturday. The field is located below the Cabell County Vocational and Technical Center, directly behind the new Wal-Mart Super Store on US Route 60 East just outside of Huntington's city limits. The game will be broadcast by WRVC 930 AM, one of the flagship stations of Marshall Athletics, with the "Voice of the Herd," Steve Cotton, at the mike. The game is available on the internet at www.marshall.edu/wmul from the Marshall student radio station WMUL 88.1 FM. The teams wrap up the series on Sunday at 1:00 p.m. and the Herd is also scheduled to play long-time rival Morehead State at University Heights on Wednesday, April 13, at 3:00 p.m., later this week, weather permitting.

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