Spartans open regional play Wednesday

Spartans open regional play Wednesday

No. 12-ranked D3Baseball.com and No. 15-ranked American Baseball Coaches Association Division III Manchester University earned the top seed at the NCAA Division III Terre Haute/Rose-Hulman Mideast Regional with the release of the national field Monday, May 13.

MU, who earned the automatic bid from the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference after going 3-0 in the postseason tournament May 9-11, takes on eighth-seeded Mount Union College of Alliance, Ohio, at 1:15 p.m. in the second game of day one action Wednesday, May 15. All games are set for Art Nehf Field on Rose-Hulman's campus in Terre Haute. Live statistics and a live webcast can be accessed via a link at www.muspartans.com, the Internet home of Manchester University athletics.

Coach Rick Espeset's program has enjoyed success during their five previous regional trips. They won the 2004 regional en route to the College World Series, were second a year ago to perennial NCAA Division III power Marietta and were among the final three in the remaining appearances.

The 2013 Spartans stand 35-5-1 and are riding a season-best 12-game win streak. Offense and pitching have played significant roles in the skein, as the Black and Gold are hitting .353 with a .534 team slugging percentage, and the pitching staff has compiled a 2.78 earned run average with 80 strikeouts and only 33 earned runs surrendered over the last 12 contests.

Five players are hitting above .350. Senior outfielder/pitcher Bryce Murphy (Ossian, Ind.) tops the list at .384 with 66 hits and 17 doubles. Sophomore second baseman Trevor Kimm (Anderson, Ind.) is next at .376 with 62 hits and seven home runs, senior outfielder Austin Rieke (Fishers, Ind.), due to a red-hot .459 run through the last 12 games, is hitting .375, senior shortstop Corey Marchant (Fort Wayne, Ind.) stands at .363 with 17 doubles and four home runs and junior third baseman Jordan Nieman (Michigan City, Ind.) is at .351 with 61 hits, 17 doubles, four triples, 11 home runs and 67 RBIs.

On the mound, four Spartans have five-or-more victories. Senior Kyle Konarski (Elkhart, Ind.) leads the way at 9-0, as senior Justin Scott (Fort Wayne, Ind.) is 8-1, junior Dylan Padgett (Kirklin, Ind.) is 7-1 and Bryce Murphy is 5-2. Murphy's 1.29 earned run average and 10 saves top the staff. Konarski's 55 strikeouts and Scott's three complete games are team bests, too, while the duo's respective 2.27 and 2.35 ERAs join Murphy in the below 2.50 range.

HCAC Tournament Champions: Looking back at three close-knit wins in three days, Espeset pointed to a key reason for the Spartans gaining the program's second successive Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference tournament title Saturday, May 11.

"We have a group of guys that don't let their emotions get too high or too low," he said. "They keep a steady approach to the game. I think a big reason for that is because of our seniors. They've been through this, having been in past tournament championship situations."

Holding a 12-5 lead in the top of the eighth, the Spartans were in the catbird seat. However, Franklin (24-20) didn't back down. Senior catcher Jesse Wilson cracked a grand slam over the right field fence, cutting the deficit to 12-9. The Grizzlies also got a runner on in the ninth with nobody out after a leadoff single, but Bryce Murphy, as he has done throughout the season, worked around the threat. He forced a game-ending grounder to Kimm that he flipped to Marchant for the second out and then was whisked to senior first baseman Brad Murphy (Fort Wayne, Ind.) to conclude a double play and close the contest.

"(Winning both the conference championship and tournament championship) speaks to what these guys have been working towards all season," Espeset said. "It continues to make a remarkable season even more special."

The top-seeded Spartans (35-5-1) got out of the gate quickly en route to their 12-9 win over third-seeded Franklin College at Gratz Field. After an unearned run put the Grizzlies in front 1-0 in the first, MU answered with two in the first, courtesy of a moon shot two-run home run off the bat of Nieman, and six in the second.

The second inning rally was produced around six hits off FC starter Taylor Glaze. Run-scoring singles from Rieke and Bryce Murphy, a two-run safety to left center from Brad Murphy and another prodigious blast from Nieman made the count 8-1. The visitors, as they did throughout the weekend, bounced back.

Franklin plated three quick runs in the third and one in the sixth to trim the margin to 8-5. MU's offense interceded for a key rally-killing sixth of their own, as Kimm launched a two-run rocket that cleared the left field fence for a 10-5 score. An inning later, Marchant drove a single up the middle that scored two runs to make it 12-5, setting up the final two and a half innings.

Six Black and Gold players ended up with multiple-hit efforts. Nieman's two home run, four-RBI output led the way, while Schell had three hits. Bryce Murphy, Rieke, Marchant, and Kimm each wound up with two-hit games. Padgett, who limited the hot-hitting FC lineup to just five runs over seven innings before Wilson's eighth inning grand slam, took the win while striking out six. Bryce Murphy earned his 10th save, striking out two in one and a third innings of work.

The Spartans placed three players on the all-tournament team. Marchant, Schell and Murphy represented MU.

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