CHARLESTON, W.Va. — If everything that could go wrong did go wrong in the Marshall baseball loss at West Virginia on Tuesday night in Morgantown, then you would think the Thundering Herd was due.
Turns out they were, and the opponent turned out to be the Virginia Tech Hokies … those same Hokies who shut out the Herd in Blacksburg back on February 21, 7-0. Tonight, it was Herd pitching, Herd defense and Herd timely hitting that led Marshall to a 3-1 win over the Atlantic Coast Conference team at Appalachian Power Park in Charleston, W.Va., Marshall’s first win over Virginia Tech since 2005, and was the Herd’s first win over the Hokies in the Mountain State since Marshall beat Virginia Tech in Huntington in April of 1998.
The ACC has been a tough league for the Herd historically. Marshall is 2-16 versus Clemson all-time, 1-3 versus Duke, 1-5 versus Florida State, 3-8 versus Louisville, 0-4 versus Miami-Fla., 0-1 versus UNC, 1-5 versus NC State, 3-0 versus Notre Dame, 0-2 versus Pittsburgh, 0-12 versus Virginia, 1-13 versus Wake Forest, and 10-23 versus Virginia Tech — 22 wins in 114 games all-time (and the Notre Dame wins were in the 1920s). The last ACC win for the Herd was a 4-1 win at Wake Forest in 2014 and before that a 3-0 win at NC State in 2008.
The Herd would have only a short time to celebrate the victory, as they stayed in Charleston on Wednesday night after the win so they can catch the “red-eye” flight at 6 a.m. to Atlanta. The Herd will then fly to Birmingham, Ala. for a weekend series in Conference USA play against the Blazers of UAB.
Marshall (13-14, 4-5 in C-USA) held the Hokies (17-14, 6-6 in the ACC) to just four hits and one run, a first-inning home run off the second batter in the lineup, shortstop Ryan Tufts of VT, his seventh of the year, to give Virginia Tech a 1-0 lead. The Herd pitchers gave up only two more hits in the final eight innings (as the Hokies got 2-of-4 hits in the first), struck out nine and walked only one.
Meanwhile, the Herd bats came alive with eight hits, and despite leaving 10 runners on base got back-to-back timely hits in the second for two runs, and in the seventh with a two-out single for an insurance run to put three on the board, more than enough behind the pitching of a true freshman in his first start and tight defense that saw Virginia Tech leave five runners on base, have one runner thrown out on a steal and saw an error not impact the final score — unlike Tuesday night when the Herd had five errors, four in one inning.
“We have had to go through a lot this season, with injuries, extra-inning losses and lots of travel, but this is a big pickup for our team after the loss to West Virginia and heading to UAB this weekend,” Herd coach Jeff Waggoner said. “Our pitching was great, our guys worked hard at the plate and in the field and hopefully this helps get us back to playing like we know we can.
“I’m just really excited the way our guys came out and responded from last night. Anytime you can bring in an ACC team and get the win is great. Hopefully, our guys can carry this momentum into this weekend against a good UAB team. We just played really good team baseball and did a great job with our pitching staff. For freshman Mark Meyer to come out there and fill the strike zone and give us a chance to win was super exciting for the program.”
Marshall freshman Mark Meyer got the start after having pitched only one inning all season. The youngster from Dalton, Ohio made the most of his first start of his college career, pitching 4.1 innings while giving up just one run (in the first), three hits (two in the first), walking none and striking out three on 48 pitches. He got a third out on a strikeout to end the first, got a fly ball to end the second after hitting a batter, then pitched two 1-2-3 innings in the third and fourth innings.
Meyer then hit another batter to open the fifth, and after a sac bunt gave up a single to put runners at first and third with one out. In came redshirt junior Matt Reed, who struck out the first two batters he faced in the fifth to kill the Hokies rally.
Reed then went 1-2-3 in the sixth inning, striking out two more batters for 4Ks in 1.2 innings pitched. He allowed no hits and no runs in his 13th appearance of the year — tied for the team lead. Reed dropped his ERA to 4.50 with this outing.
Reed gave way to the starting second baseman Will Ray, who made his seventh pitching appearance of the year (six in relief). Ray allowed a lead-off single to Raheim Cooper (who was caught stealing by catcher Rey Pastrana, who came in when starting catcher Sam Finfer replaced Ray at second. Pastrana hit Finfer for the out and Ray allowed one walk in getting 8-of-9 he faced after that first single in the seventh.
“It’s not like we have been hiding these guys,” Waggoner said. “We know what Reed and Ray can do, and Meyer is a guy who we were very high on when we recruited him. We really needed an effort like we got tonight from our pitchers. Mark has been working hard. His bullpen and inter-squad sessions have been really good. It’s just really exciting to see him come out in his first start against Virginia Tech, a really good hitting team, and do what he did.” Marshall had used four of its pitchers in the 14-7 loss to WVU and felt fortunate to use only three pitchers two days before a conference series.
On the other hand, the Herd had 10 hits and scored seven runs against the Mountaineers. But in the win over Virginia Tech, the Herd got hits when they needed them to win, led by redshirt sophomore center fielder Shane Hanon who extended his 11-game hitting streak with a leadoff hit in the second (after going 3-of-4 versus WVU), and is now hitting .321 on the season, one of three Herd hitters over .300 on the season.
He moved to second on Tommy Lane’s groundout, and then scored when Corey Garrastazu reached on a sharply hit ball off the leg of Virginia Tech starter Andrew McDonald. McDonald picked the ball up, rushed his throw and threw the ball into right field to tie the game 1-1.
Senior DH Billy Sager, leading the Herd with a .340 average, then ripped a 3-2 pitch into center field to score Garrastazu and give Marshall the lead, 2-1, although Sager and Andrew Zban, who singled after Sager, were left on base after both reached with just one out.
The Herd got a leadoff double by Tyler Ratliff in the third, but left two on, then left a runner on this in fourth, two on in the fifth and one more in the sixth. But in the seventh, Ratliff led off and was hit by a pitch for the second at-bat of the night, bringing Tech Coach Patrick Mason to come out and argue Ratliff was not trying to get out of the way. Although he was not thrown out while he got very loud with home plate umpire Chris Richards, he would be tossed soon after for arguing balls and strikes in the Tech eighth.
With Ratliff at first with now two outs, Lane hit the first pitch he saw back into center field and gave the Herd all the insurance it would need for a 3-1 lead and win. Tech got a leadoff walk in the eighth but saw the next six batters set down by Ray, who picked up his second save of the year. Leading off the eighth, Pastrana ripped a single to center, moved to second on Zban’s sac bunt, but was stranded.
Ray is now tied for second on the team in saves with Brad O’Connor (2) while Ratliff leads the team with three saves. Reed gets the win and now leads the team with four wins (4-3 on the season).
For the Herd hitting wise, Ratliff was 1-for-2 with a double, hit by a pitch twice and one run scored, Hanon was 2-for-3 with one walk and one run scored, Lane was 1-of-3 with a walk and RBI, Garrastazu was 1-for-4 with a run scored, Sager was 1-of-3 with a RBI, and Zban was 1-of-2 with a walk and sac bunt.
Tech’s McDonald suffered a tough loss, pitching 3.0 inning with two runs (both earned), five hits, a walk and four strikeouts. Four other Tech pitchers allowed just three more hits and one more run over the final five innings pitched. The Hokies, who came into the game with a .300 batting average for its team, 56 home runs and 216 RBI (the Herd came in with 24 HRs and 130 RBI), but had three players go 1-for-4 and one more 1-for-2 with a walk.
The Herd plays at UAB on Friday at 7:30 p.m. (all times Eastern), Saturday at 3 p.m. and Sunday at 1:30 p.m. The Herd will be home at the George Smailes Field at the YMCA Kennedy Center on Tuesday against Morehead State and Wednesday against Ohio U. (both games start at 3 p.m.) before going on the road again to Boca Raton to face Florida Atlantic.
Marshall is back at Appalachian Power Park on April 18 for a 6 p.m. rematch with WVU, where tickets are $8, $5 (for groups of 10 or more) and a special Big Green $25 ticket for all you can eat and drink at a tailgate for Herd fans during the game in the left field stands. All tickets will be sold through the Marshall ticket office at 1-800 THE HERD or HerdZone.com.
Marshall will also face Ohio on April 19 at Prasco Park in Mason, Ohio at 6 p.m., then host FIU at Epling Stadium in Beckley, W.Va. on April 21-23, at Morehead State on April 26 and at Old Dominion on April 28-30.