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Owls prepare to face defending champs

Friday, June 1, 2012

Cinderella is going to the Grand Ball.

The only one of 16 teams which advanced to the MSHSAA Baseball Championships to have never reached that level before is Marshall, which will play defending state champion Westminster Christian Academy of St. Louis in Friday's Class 3 semifinal at Springfield.

It was an objective which three years ago, when they won only two games, seemed beyond the reach of the two-win Owls.

"As a team, we have accomplished a lot this season as for the goals of the entire program," noted MHS head coach Ian Verts. "For these young men, it's striving for what you believe, hard work and achieving goals."

A week after qualifying for the state tournament with a 5-4 victory at Rogersville, the Owls "are really excited," Verts admitted, whose challenge is to make sure the players understand their business is unfinished. "They're focused on doing something they've dreamed about for a long time."

Marshall will need all the focus it can muster, along with the grittiness it has displayed throughout the season, when they face the top-ranked Wildcats (27-3) - who have won 24 straight games since starting the campaign at 3-3.

"They're a very solid team and well-coached," Verts observed. "They have outstanding players throughout their line-up."

That begins with senior Tate Matheny, who led metro St. Louis with an otherworldly .612 batting average. The son of Cardinals manager Mike Matheny, the Missouri State recruit has slugged 10 homers and driven in 47 runs - tied for the team lead with sophomore Shane Benes, progeny of ex-Redbird pitcher and Westminster assistant coach Andy Benes.

"They have the experience of having won it last year," Verts said.

That's not to say the Owls are conceding anything. The post-season performances of senior pitchers Aaron Skinner, Jordan Pannell and Collin Porter provide hope, as does what Verts called the "mentally savvy ... approach at the plate" of Marshall (17-10) - which received 173 free passes in 883 plate appearances this season for a healthy .417 on-base percentage.

The Owls on offense aren't packed with power, but their hitters stay within themselves and work counts, and if their defense isn't spectacular it is still fundamentally sound. In other words, they don't typically beat themselves in any aspect of the game.

Maybe that's why Verts doesn't "get caught up in who we're playing. If we go out and play Marshall Owls baseball, I think we can match up against anybody and have an opportunity to win at the end of the game."

No wonder the Owls weren't swept by any NCMC foe this season, and were never on the wrong end of a 10-run-rule contest. The combination of talent, experience and faith goes a long way.

"They're not satisfied with where they're at," Verts declared. "They want to win it all."

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-- Posted by luvthoseowls on Fri, Jun 1, 2012, at 11:12 AM

When is the game?

-- Posted by luvthoseowls on Fri, Jun 1, 2012, at 10:45 AM
Response by Eric Crump/Editor:
1 p.m.

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