Sunday, March 16, 2003

Baseball: Xavier overcomes its early struggles


Only question mark is finding a closer

By Ryan Ernst
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Xavier baseball coach John Morrey likes the resilience his team has shown early this season. It's what necessitated the resilience that he's not thrilled about.

The Musketeers were on the road for their first eight games this season. They struggled at the plate and lost the first six. That's when Morrey's experienced pitching rotation took over and the bats came alive, as Xavier went unbeaten in its next eight games.

"When you lose your first six you've got disaster staring you in the face," Morrey said. "But now we've got it going in the right direction. Hopefully, we can keep up the momentum going into the conference schedule."

Leading the Musketeers (6-7-1) into the Atlantic 10 schedule will be ace Adam Jahnsen, a senior pitcher who led the team with 10 wins last season. Fellow senior Jarret Sues, a seven-game winner last season, joins him on the staff. Sophomore lefty Sean Finnegan, one of the top strikeout men in the A-10, is back after combining for a no-hitter last year and taking two others into the seventh inning.

"We can send out a number of guys who can start and win games," Morrey said. "The question now is who's going to close them."

On offense, first baseman/outfielder Mark Andres, shortstop Brett Smith and outfielder Jay Johnson will anchor the middle of the order. Johnson, a Dixie Heights grad, was a freshman All-American last season.

Much like last year, Xavier will chase Richmond in the A-10. The No. 12 Spiders came three outs from the College World Series last season.

Cincinnati

Like the Muskies, the Bearcats (6-10) have suffered from a lack of offensive firepower in the early going. Unfortunately for coach Brian Cleary, UC is already into its Conference USA schedule, one of the toughest league schedules in the country.

"People in this area don't really realize it, but we play in a drastically, drastically different league than anyone in the area," Cleary said. "We've got three teams in the top 35 in the nation (Tulane, UAB, Southern Miss) and a few more that are really close (Houston, TCU, East Carolina)."

Getting the ball against the top teams in the conference will be four-year starter B.J. Borsa. Last season, he recorded a 3.63 ERA and had six complete games. Kyle Markle, Nate Bouldin and Rob Reel will solidify the staff, though Cleary said the team hasn't played enough innings to know on whom it can rely.

Offensively, the Bearcats will look to shortstop Brad Schutz. Last season, Schutz led the team in five offensive categories en route to earning first team all-conference honors. He is also one of UC's best fielders. Schutz and other potential offensive leaders Aaron Moll and Jake Smith have struggled early, but Cleary said with their emergence will come a much improved UC team.

Mount St. Joseph

Coach Chuck Murray's senior-heavy (10) team lost only five players from last season's 19-19 team. But two were starting pitchers.

"Right now we're swinging the bats really well and we're solid defensively," Murray said of his 6-4 club. "But pitching depth is a concern."

Shortstop Mark Sheppard (Roger Bacon) and third baseman Ben Miller (Elder), both team captains, make up the meat of the order and will solidify the left side of the infield. Last season, the two were third and fourth, respectively, in both batting average and RBI.

On the mound, the third captain, Shawn Niehaus (Colerain), will have to step up after last season's 1-5 campaign. Dennis McRoberts (Fairfield) will also get the ball in big games.

Thomas More

The Saints started quick this season, going 7-1 to win the EMU/Sarasota Spring Classic in Florida.

During the tournament (9-1), Thomas More set tournament records with 83 runs, 27 doubles and 13 home runs. Despite the big offensive numbers, coach Jeff Hetzer said this year's team lacks last year's power. And he likes that.

"In some aspects we're better. We're quicker; we're more my type of team," he said. "We're not going to wait for a three-run homer. We're going to hit and run and steal bases."

The youthful Saints were led at the EMU Classic by two sophomores and a freshman. Sophomore shortstop Scott Vetter (East Central) hit .533 and stole seven bases; sophomore Noah Welte drove in 14 runs; and freshman catcher Fred Reiss (Oak Hills) hit .450 with 12 RBI. All three made the all-tournament team.

Hetzer said the fast start was key for the inexperienced team.

"When you're young, you're dumb, too dumb to know you're not supposed to be any good," he said. "And I'm not going to tell them."

Northern Kentucky

The Norse lost six key players from last season's Great Lakes Valley Conference champion and NCAA Division II Tournament qualifier, but coach Todd Asalon insists new recruits and the emergence of returning letter winners have led to an improved pitching staff.

Junior right-hander Chris Unkraut returns after posting a 7-4 record and a 2.63 ERA last season.

The offense must replace four all-GLVC performers, but second baseman Shaun Erie returns after collecting a school-record 83 hits last season and batting .352. Erie's double-play partner, senior captain Chris Osterkamp, hit .326 last year.

A pair of transfers, first baseman Jerrod Fraley and third baseman Josh Perkins, will help pick up the offensive slack by starting at the corners.

Others

In his final collegiate basketball game, Lebanon grad and Harvard captain Brady Merchant scored a school-record 45 points in a 93-80 loss to Brown. Merchant also set a school record with nine 3-pointers in the contest en route to the sixth highest scoring output in Ivy League history.

• Cincinnati State men's basketball coach John Hurley was named Ohio Community College Athletic Conference coach of the year. Surge guard Malcolm Manier was named the league's player of the year. His teammate Jason Hauck made the OCCAC second team.

• Jacque Fessel, a freshman at Tennessee from St. Ursula, recently set a school record in the 100-yard backstroke. The time of 54.73 seconds was good enough to automatically qualify her for the NCAA Championships, March 20-22.

• St. Xavier alumnus Andy Larkin, a junior forward at the University of Rochester, was named to the University Athletic Association first team. Larkin averaged 12.5 points and 7.3 rebounds per game. He also ranked eighth in Division III in the nation with a 62.4 percent field goal percentage.

• Mercy grad Angie Zeuch was named to the University Athletic Association second team after averaging 10.5 points and 2.4 assists per game as a junior at Case Western Reserve.

• Miami junior forward Kim Lancaster, a Princeton product, averaged 9.8 points and five rebounds per game this season for the Miami women's basketball team en route to receiving the Mid-American Conference's inaugural sixth man award.

• Miami junior forward Mike Kompon, who leads the team in points (48) and assists (31), was named to the Central Collegiate Hockey Association all-conference second team.

• Northern Kentucky basketball players Bridget Flanagan and Amy Mobley were named to the Great Lakes Valley Conference second team. Norse teammate Kristin Polosky was an honorable mention selection.

• Norwich freshman Geoff Hensley, a McNicholas grad, was named the Great Northeast Athletic Conference's rookie of the year after averaging 9.3 points per game.

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E-mail rernst@enquirer.com




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