HUNTINGTON — The Marshall baseball team heads south to the Sunshine State to take on the Florida Atlantic Owls in a Conference USA three-game weekend series, beginning Friday. The series continues on Saturday and concludes on Sunday.
Starting pitchers for the weekend series:
Friday at 6:30 p.m.: LHP Joshua Shapiro (1-3, 3.98 ERA) vs. RHP Alex House (4-1, 4.56 ERA);
Saturday at 4 p.m.: RHP Wade Martin (3-1, 2.22 ERA) vs. RHP Marc Stewart (1-1, 4.55 ERA);
Sunday at noon: Herd starter TBA vs. LHP Jake Miednik (4-2, 6.26 ERA).
Florida Atlantic (22-9-1, 9-3 C-USA) is currently tied for second with Old Dominion in the Conference USA standings, trailing Southern Miss by a game. The Owls have league series wins over Charlotte, Rice, UAB and Middle Tennessee. FAU picked up a non-conference win during the week over in-state rival UCF.
The Owls feature five players with a batting average over .300. They are led by sophomore infielder Tyler Frank with a .356 batting average and a team-high 31 RBIs. Florida Atlantic’s Stephen Kerr leads all C-USA hitters with a .486 on-base percentage.
Marshall enters the series having won four consecutive games and six of its last eight contests, including wins over Middle Tennessee, Virginia Tech, and taking 2-of-3 at UAB last weekend, and then wins this week against Morehead State, and Ohio University. The Thundering Herd won its first Conference USA road series of the season by taking two-of-three at the UAB Blazers last weekend in Birmingham, Ala. Marshall claimed the series by winning 2-1 in 10 innings on Saturday and 5-2 on Sunday.
Sophomore pitcher Wade Martin tossed a career-high nine innings with seven strikeouts in the Saturday win. Martin lowered his ERA to 2.22, fourth-lowest in the conference. On Sunday, Jacob Niggemeyer picked up the win in relief with four innings of one hit, one walk, and one strikeout win, while Matt Reed picked up save No. 3 with a four-batter ninth.
Andrew Zban was the hero on Sunday by going 2-for-3 with a two-run homer, and hit a home run on Saturday in the 2-1 (10) win as well as hitting a home run on Wednesday in the win over the Ohio U. Bobcats.
The Herd picked up midweek wins this week over longtime rival Morehead State (back to 1926) on Tuesday, a 4-3 walk-off win on Tyler Ratliff’s two-out, ninth inning at-bat, and then beat another long-time rival (back to 1912) Ohio, 12-9, in a game that took 3:40 to complete and saw 14 pitchers and 25 position players play in the game at the George T. Smailes Sr. Baseball Field at the YMCA Kennedy Center. Brad O’Connor pitched eight innings of three-run, seven hit baseball with four walks and four strikeouts.
Aside from Zban, as the former Huntington High player now with four home runs, Shane Hanon, Ratliff and Sam Finfer have been the biggest threats at the plate for the Thundering Herd recently. Hanon holds a team-high .340 batting average with two home runs, 14 RBI, and has the longest hit streak this season for the Marshall with 16 games in a row. Hanon was 3-of-5 against Ohio in Wednesday’s win and 3-of-4 against Morehead State Tuesday.
Ratliff and Finfer are both hitting .291. Ratliff leads the Herd with 37 hits, 10 doubles, and 34 RBIs. Finfer (2-for-4 versus Ohio) and Ratliff (1-for-4 against the Bobcats) lead the team with eight home runs each, with Ratliff hitting a home run against both Morehead State and Ohio U. DH Billy Sager is hitting .311 for the Herd.
Shortstop Leo Valenti had his first home run of the season last Sunday in the win at UAB and was 1-for-4 against Ohio. Freshman Tucker Linder pinch-hit against Ohio, going 1-of-2 with a hit, reaching on an error and scoring two runs.
Pitcher Hunter Sexton won both midweek games, picking up the win in one inning in the ninth against MSU, then throwing the third and fourth innings against OU, and is now 4-1 this season. Ratliff has a 1.29 ERA in four appearances this year and three saves while Will Ray has eight appearances on the noun with a 1-1 mark, a 4.20 ERA and is also hitting .276 at second base in most games. He has two saves.
Matt Reed is 4-3 with three saves, and an ERA of 4.01, in 16 games, while Wade Martin is 3-1 with a 2.22 ERA in eight starts and leads the Herd with 51 strikeouts, leads with 48.2 innings pitched and leads starters with a .203 opponent’s batting average.
The live stats for Marshall at FAU is at Gametracker.com this weekend. Live video will be provided by FAUSports.TV, starting with Friday’s “Bark in the Park” promotion with Dog bandanas/eye black for man’s best friend.
The Herd welcomes in-state rival West Virginia University to Appalachian Power Park in Charleston, W.Va., on Tuesday, April 18, at 6 p.m., a game that can be heard on ESPN Huntington 94.1 FM and AM 930 and streaming at WRVC.com on the Thundering Herd/IMG Sports Network. Making the call will be Woody Woodrum and the “Voice of the Herd” Steve Cotton. Marshall lost the first meeting with WVU of the Big 12 in Morgantown on April 4, 14-7.
Marshall returns to action the following night by traveling to Prasco Park in Mason, Ohio — northeast of Cincinnati, between downtown and Kings Island, on the campus of pharmaceutical company Prasco Laboratories — at a stadium that hosts the National Christian Colleges World Series, to face off again with rival Ohio University at 6 p.m. on April 19.
The Herd will then host FIU a during Green-White Weekend, April 21-23, at Linda K. Epling Stadium in Beckley, W.Va. Epling Stadium is also the home of the West Virginia Miners of the Prospect League, a collegiate wooden-bat summer league which normally features 1-to-3 Marshall players and has Marshall Athletic Hall of Fame member and former Herd and San Diego Padres catcher Joe Goddard as a volunteer assistant, following his retirement a few years back as the first coach over the previous two-plus decades at Independence High School including winning one state championship.