New coach leads seasoned Owls

Wednesday, March 22, 2006
The return to action of senior shortstop Joe Lozano will be a big lift to both the Owls' offense and defense.

A Marshall baseball team which lapsed into an uninspired, playing-out-the-string mode late last season was in for a shock.

New head coach Mike Godfrey let it be known from the outset that those bad habits would no longer be acceptable. The message has apparently sunk in.

"I've been pleasantly surprised with their desire to learn," Godfrey remarked. "There's a great desire to learn with this bunch. They're hungry."

That's a good start for a team which showed flashes of ability last year, but received little on-field leadership. Godfrey is a no-nonsense type who for the last two years guided Southern Arkansas University, a top-25 NCAA Division II program, to a 79-40 record after 10 years as a prep coach at Neosho.

He's hoping the hard-nosed, gung-ho attitude of the college game will rub off on the Owls, 8-14 overall and 3-7 for fifth place in the NCMC a year ago.

"We're working the dog out of them," Godfrey admitted. "They've been pushed."

Marshall will need to play aggressively, since it lost two all-conference players: outfielder Jason Fann -- who led the team with a .397 average, eight homers, 24 runs batted in, 19 runs scored and a .479 on-base percentage -- and first baseman Alex Pointer (.373), also the Owls' top pitcher (2-2, 2.82 earned-run average).

There are still some good arms around. Senior Chad Gibson wasn't quite as effective last year as he had been the previous season, when he posted a 2.98 ERA and struck out 50 batters in 45 innings, but has shown a deadly change-up and junior southpaw Paul Wayne Thomas made a solid debut (3-4, 3.53).

Senior Gary Lyon threw well in limited outings, a 1.40 ERA in three games, and could be a strong closer. Senior Brennan Thomas has good control and senior Brandon Ryan showed improvement during summer ball.

Scoring runs will be more of a challenge. Lyon (.333) and Thomas (.294), an all-NCMC pick, have the ability to mash the ball, but Godfrey recognizes that "parts of our line-up will have to manufacture runs."

"My philosophy is to magnify the obvious," he explained. "If he's a speed guy, we're going to work on bunting and getting him on any way we can. There's two or three guys that, if they're up there with runners on base, I want them swinging the bat."

Marshall returns a senior keystone combination in second baseman Lucas Moore and shortstop Joe Lozano, who missed most of '05 after fracturing his cheekbone. The Thomases, Paul Wayne at first and Brennan at third, return at the corners and Lyon is a third-year starter behind the plate.

"The mental and physical aspects" of defense are the main area of focus, Godfrey noted. "The instincts are developed from playing and playing and playing, and learning from watching."

Ryan and Gibson were starters in the outfield much of last season and promising sophomores Ethan Williams and Kodi Phillips will look for playing time. Also hoping to work their way into the mix are sophomore first baseman Jared Porter and freshman slugger Cory McComas.

"The kids have come out with a mature approach and bought into some of the new things we're doing," Godfrey said. "When you work on something you haven't done, you have to expect that it will work."

The Owls haven't had a winning season since going 10-8 in 2002, their only one since claiming the NCMC title in '99. Marshall may think it can win, but the key will be developing a certainty of success.

"It's more of a hope right now that things go well," Godfrey asserted. "I want to see them to expect to win every time they take the field and believe in each other."

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