HUNTINGTON — Junior third baseman Tyler Ratliff blasted a solo walk-off home run to left field in the ninth inning, lifting the Marshall baseball team to a 4-3 win over the Morehead State Eagles on Tuesday at the George T. Smailes, Sr. Baseball Field at the YMCA Kennedy Center on Rt. 2 north of the Marshall campus. The Thundering Herd improves to 16-15 overall and has won four of its last five games, is 5-2 in its last seven games and Marshall is in a four-way tie for fourth in Conference USA with a 6-6 mark.
Ratliff, who is third in hitting for the Herd this season with a .293 mark, is one home run behind teammate and MU catcher Sam Finfer (8), and Ratliff also leads the Herd with 30 runs batted in as well as in doubles with 10. He plays third for the Herd as well as pitching in relief, where he is tops among regulars in earned run average at 1.29 in four appearances and is tied for the team lead in saves with three.
Freshman relief pitcher Hunter Sexton (3-1) picked up the win for the Herd, thanks to the 2-out heroics of Ratliff, hitting his seventh home run of the year. The Herd’s starting pitcher Brad O’Connor pitched well for 8.0 innings, allowing seven hits, four walks and hit a batter, but also allowed just three earned runs and struck out four. Sexton pitched the ninth, walking one and allowing one hit with no runs.
The Eagles of the Ohio Valley Conference fall to 22-11 overall and are in second in the OVC with an 8-4 mark. Morehead State’s freshman relief pitcher Alex Garbrick (3-1) took his first loss of the season when he was brought out of the bullpen to hold the lead. He saw his ERA rise to 4.50 for the season. Morehead has lost five games in a row as they are 14-1 at home, but are 5-8 away and lost at WVU, lost three at UT-Martin in OVC play last weekend, and lost to the Herd for the second year in a row, falling 6-5 (12) last season.
“Well, they put a fastball pitcher on the mound, and Tyler is one of our better hitters with power,” Marshall Coach Jeff Waggoner said. “He got the pitch he was looking for to give us a nice win over a good Morehead State team. Hunter pitched well in relief, and O’Connor gave us eight great innings in this start today.”
Morehead State freshman starter Jack Ziegelmeyer threw six innings, also allowing seven hits and walking on to allow three runs, only two earned. Ziegelmeyer allowed two runs with two outs in the bottom of the first, then Marshall’s O’Connor allowed two runs with two outs in the top of the third.
“I thought Jake pitched really well in his first college start, and I thought the bullpen actually pitched well too, but we didn’t do enough yet again offensively to win,” Morehead State Coach Mike McGuire said. “We had some opportunities late, and with the guys, we wanted at the plate, but we didn’t get it done. We have to hit more line drives. We hit the ball hard several times, but they were hard-hit fly outs.”
Morehead State left 11 runners on base, while the Thundering herd left eight on. Besides Ratliff’s home run, Marshall also got doubles from senior first baseman Tommy Lane and from sophomore left fielder Andrew Zban, eventually scoring to tie the game in the bottom of the seventh at 3-3.
Marshall put pressure on Morehead State out of the gates by scoring two runs in the bottom of the first inning. Finfer had a two-out single to left field, followed by Shane Hanon with a bunt single. The bunt throw by Ziegelmeyer sailed over the MSU first baseman, moving Hanon to second and allowed Finfer to come around and score. Lane kept the inning going with a double to center field that scored Hanon, Lane’s 17th RBI of the season. Hanon extended his
Morehead State responded in the top of the third with a pair of runs. The Eagles had back-to-back singles to open the frame that put runners on the corners. Left fielder Niko Hulsizer capitalized on the runner in scoring position by hitting a single through the left side, scoring Brody Shoupe. Later in the inning with runners on the corners and two outs, Morehead State pulled off a double steal as Braxton Morris scored.
The Eagles took the lead in the top of the sixth. The Herd pitcher, O’Connor, earned two outs but worked himself into trouble by loading the bases on two walks and a hit batter. With the bases loaded, O’Connor walked Shoupe, the third walk of the inning, allowing center fielder Michael Patrick to score from third.
The lead didn’t last long for Morehead State, as Marshall tied the game in the seventh. Sophomore outfielderAndrew Zban led off the inning with a deep double to center field. Zban moved to third on a sacrifice bunt by Cory Garrastazu. Leo Valenti drove in Zban with a single to right field that knotted the game at three.
Hanon had his ninth multi-hit game of the season by going 3-for-4 with a run scored. Hanon extended his games with a hit streak to 15 games in a row and reached base safely for the 18th game in a row — Hanon now leads the Herd with a .326 average. Ratliff was 2-for-5 with a run scored and a RBI on the dinger.
Marshall welcomes the Ohio U. Bobcats to the Kennedy Center Field on Wednesday at 3 p.m. It will be the 162nd meeting between the teams in a series that began in 1912. Ohio U. leads the all-time series 114-46-1 including conference games between the two in the Buckeye Conference (1933-39) and the Mid-American Conference (1953-69; 1997-2005).
Marshall has gone 1-3 in the last four games with Ohio U. since 2014 and has lost three in a row. The Herd last beat the Bobcats at the Smailes Field at the YMCA Kennedy Center 2-1 in 2014. Ohio U. enters the game 15-15 (pending the outcome of Tuesday night’s game at Youngstown State) and is 3-3 so far in the Mid-American after being beat 3-of-4 games by Central Michigan at Bob Wren Stadium in Athens, Ohio, over the weekend.