Sunday, March 24, 2002

Details distinguish Mount baseball



By Shannon Russell, srussell@enquirer.com
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        There are rough days, afternoons when the players outnumber the fans and the silence is only interrupted by the crack of a bat.

        Home games are 35 minutes from campus, every player's for himself for transportation. Yesterday's practice might have been in the school gym - if it didn't interfere with another program's schedule - or outside, where there is no official stadium.

        But for 24 athletes and five coaches at the College of Mount St. Joseph, there's nothing better than Division III baseball.

        Chuck Murray has been with the Delhi-based program since it opened in 1994, first as an assistant and then as head coach. He has taken teams through six straight winning seasons, a 2000 Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference (HCAC) championship and Division III regional final appearance. He is winning percentage is 66.

        He still has to do some convincing when recruiting high school players. Murray can't offer scholarships or fringe benefits per Division III policy. But there's always the chance to play ball.

        “We're concentrating on those kids who are good baseball players but are just a little short for Division I programs,” Murray said. “They come here for an education and to increase their baseball careers by four more years.”

        The players come from a dozen Cincinnati schools, from teams that won titles to clubs whose records are best forgotten. Senior pitcher/second baseman Andy Ey played for a McNicholas state championship team and graduated with hopes of college glory. Once he began researching progams, he decided the Mount was everthing he wanted in a college.

        “This was very attractive to me because the school is small in size and I could stay close to home,” said Ey, a religious studies major. “I just wanted to go somewhere where I didn't have to sit for two years and play part time another two years.”

        The Lions play their home games at the state-of-the-art Midland Company fields in Amelia. Murray, who coached Midland summer teams for 14 years, has kept a watchful eye on summer teams and high school clubs in search of potential players.

        If there's a season Murray has been looking forward to, this is it. His 11 juniors and five seniors account for the most experienced team he's ever had.

        They've already accomplished hat no other Mount team has — defeating a Division I opponent. The Lions ousted crosstown foe Xavier 5-4 March 13.

        Senior captain and LaSalle graduate Chris McKeever went 2-for-4 with 2 RBI and a double in the game, improving his batting average to .467. McKeever was named the HCAC Baseball Player of the Week after the Xavier win and one over Marian College. He was 4-for-8 with a double, three RBI and two runs scored in the games.

        “The win was good for the players here,” said McKeever, a four-year starter and first baseman. “People automatically think "Oh, Division III players aren't that good,' but I think some of our guys could play for Division I schools. This was redeeming for a lot of people.”'

        Said Murray: “It was one game on one day and we got the breaks. We certainly wouldn't want to play Xavier in a seven-game series or we would take a pounding.”

        Still, the win was a milestone.

        Junior second baseman Sam Merkle started his college career at the University of Cincinnati playing fall ball, only to transfer to Mount St. Joseph by the winter. Merkle, one of five Roger Bacon graduates on the team, never expected Lion baseball to be easy.

        “I knew coming in that no one was getting pampered. As far as Division III programs go, you have to understand that you have to work for everything you have. You're not going to have sold out crowds, and it's not going to be glamorous," Merkle said. "I have an abundance of respect for this team and its camaraderie."

        Part of the program's lure is Murray himself. Ey, McKeever and Merkle said Murray's open-door policy makes life easier, whether it's a five-minute chat about classwork or a longer look at personal problems.

        “There's great communication. Coach Murray always makes a point to ask about you,” McKeever said.

        Rain has forced Murray to postpone several games; three are slated for make-ups. The team will be inside the Mount St. Joseph gym every night regardless.

        They'll weather the inconveniences and sacrifices to play 40 games in less than three months, whether or not fans show up or not, and regardless of what team they play. Because for the Lions, there's nothing better than baseball.

        ALSO: Crissy Rapp (Amelia), a Georgetown College junior outfielder, was named Mid-South Conference softball player of the week after batting .750 with eight hits, four RBI and four runs scored. In the Tigers' 2-1 win over Lindsay Wilson March 16, Rapp was 4-for-4 with three RBI and three runs scored.

        George Washington freshman Amber Melvin (Purcell Marian) was named the Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Week for gymnastics. Melvin tied for fourth on the uneven bars with a career-high score 9.825 at Kent State March 15. She scored a 9.7 on the balance beam and 9.725 on the vault, contributing to GW's season-high team score (195.600).

        Wilmington College junior Kyle Wolf (Anderson) led the indoor track team to sixth place in the NCAA Division III National Championship, placing second in pole vault with a 16-foot, 4.75-inch jump. He earned All-American honors for the third time. Rose Bataille (Felicity) was fourth in the 55-meter dash and was named an All-American at the meet.

       



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