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Baseball: Owens follows in Szefc’s wake (Picture Included)

LeMoyne takes over top spot from Marist

COLLEGE STATION, Texas – LeMoyne coach Steve Owens has been riding atop the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference for most of the past five seasons, with seven combined regular-season and tournament titles since 2003.

That run started the season after John Szefc left his position as head coach at Marist College to join the UL coaching staff. In effect, Marist’s success meant that LeMoyne never got much notoriety despite turning out big-leaguers like Tom Browning and former Houston Astro Jim Deshaies.

"John just had some tremendous teams there," Owens said of Szefc’s run with the Red Foxes. "He was there when I got to LeMoyne and he just beat our butts a couple of years."

Szefc was the Marist boss for seven seasons including an NCAA Regional trip to Lafayette in the 2000 season. He compiled a 212-137-1 record including a school-record 41 wins in 2002 when his team won the MAAC regular-season crown.

Shortly thereafter, he joined the Cajun staff.

"I’ve known him for a long time, and he’s a good baseball man," said Owens, whose fourth-seeded Dolphins face Texas A&M at 7 p.m. today in their regional opener. "He does a great job running their offense. You can look at the numbers and see that."

SURVIVOR: Parker Dalton’s impact at second base for Texas A&M this season has been dramatic, but not nearly as dramatic as what he went through last September.

Dalton, a second-team All-Big 12 selection, has started 43 of the last 44 games and is second on the team in hitting (.384) out of the nine hole, after hitting .242 as a junior.

More importantly, he’s batting 1.000 against cancer.

Dalton made a routine visit to a dermatologist last Aug. 28, and was told he had skin cancer. Less than a month later, he had a cancerous melanoma removed from his back as well as lymph nodes under his left arm and shoulder blade.

He was cancer-free by October, but the trips to the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston affected him when he saw both young and old patients, many of whom were terminal. Some of the younger patients he saw were housing in "Kim’s Place," the pediatric wing named for former UL women’s basketball and WNBA Houston Comets star Kim Perrot, a victim of brain cancer.

"It was like, why do I get to leave and go back out and play," Dalton said. "I hadn’t ever been to a place like that before. There’s hope there, but there’s also so much that you never forget."

He has only a small scar in the middle of his back to show for it. But his baseball play has completely changed.

"Before, I played with fear, and it showed," he said. "After the cancer, it’s like I wasn’t scared anymore. There’s a sense that I don’t have to be afraid of anything."

Dalton spent part of his 2005 fall helping displaced Tulane athletes who relocated in College Station after Hurricane Katrina, efforts that earned him two Big 12 Conference and NCAA awards for sportsmanship.

This season, he’s hit safely in 39 of the 51 games he’s started and has 24 multiple-hit games.

"I guess he feels like if he can beat cancer, he can beat a curveball," said A&M head coach Rob Childress.

FAMILIAR TURF: The Cajuns have two players on the 25-man regional roster from Texas, and one made fairly regular appearances at Olsen Field over the past two seasons.

Junior outfielder Kolin Hatfield of Cypress, Texas, played his first two collegiate seasons at Sam Houston State in Huntsville. The Bearkats played Texas A&M twice during each of his seasons.

"I loved playing here," Hatfield said after Thursday’s practice. "I loved the crowds. They were awesome."

As a sophomore at SHSU, Hatfield had four hits against the host Aggies, but A&M won both of those games. In fact, Hatfield’s teams went 0-4 at Olsen Field.

"I always did pretty good, but we never beat them," Hatfield said. "It was a big game for us because of who they were. We always upped our game, but it seemed like they were always able to make a couple of plays to win."

Hatfield also had a grand-slam homer against the Cajuns during his Bearkat career. This season, he’s played in 41 games and started 36, 28 in right field and eight in left. He takes a .273 average with four homers and 34 RBIs into the regional.

The other Texan on the UL squad is sophomore Matt Hicks, a native of Houston who will start at third base.

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UL hitting coach John Szefc, right, talks with head coach Tony Robichaux, left, prior to action earlier this year.