By Gary Fauber
Assistant Sports Editor
Two weeks ago, well over 3,000 West Virginia University fans came to Beckley’s Linda K. Epling Stadium to see the Mountaineers sweep Kansas in an important Big 12 series.
Now, it’s Marshall fans’ turn to step to the plate.
The Thundering Herd will host East Carolina in a three-game set starting with today’s 3 p.m. first pitch. The game was originally set to start at 7 p.m. but was changed because of the threat of rain.
Marshall left-hander Wayland Moore (2-2, 3.77 earned run average) will start against the Pirates’ Jeff Hoffman (5-5. 3.06).
The second game of the series is tentatively set for 7 p.m. Saturday and the finale 1 p.m. Sunday.
Admission to each game at Epling Stadium is $5.
“We have played well in Beckley this season,” Marshall coach Jeff Waggoner said. “We’re happy to be there.”
Marshall (18-29, 5-13 C-USA) has been a frequent visitor to Beckley, but this will be the Herd’s first Conference USA series at the stadium that opened in 2010. With only a week remaining before the C-USA tournament, this is Marshall’s most important league weekend of the season.
The Herd leads UAB by a single game for eighth in the C-USA standings. Only eight of the nine league teams make it to the tournament, and with a trip to national power Rice looming next weekend, handling ECU would be huge.
“ECU has been hot,” Waggoner said. “In baseball, you look at the hottest teams. ECU has been on a roll.
“I don’t think you can say there is one thing they are doing well. They are playing good defense. Their offense is on fire. Their pitchers are throwing well. They took two of three from Southern Miss last weekend and Southern Miss had been playing well.”
ECU (26-22, 10-8 C-USA), which has won four straight weekend series, had been struggling offensively but has improved of late. The Pirates did not have a .300 hitter two weeks ago, but that has changed with infielder/designated hitter Drew Reynolds (.324) and third baseman Zach Houchins (.303) going over the mark.
The Pirates have the reigning C-USA Hitter of the Week in Chase McDonald. The junior first baseman/DH batted .500 (8-for-16) with two home runs, six runs batted in and five runs scored in four games last week, including the series victory over league-leading Southern Miss.
Reynolds, a 2012 finalist for the John Olerud Two-Way Player of the Year Award, is also the Pirates’ closer. He leads the conference with 12 saves in 15 opportunities.
Sophomore second baseman Andrew Dundon and senior center fielder Isaac Ballou have been Marshall’s top two hitters most of the season. Dundon is currently hitting .310, a point better than Ballou. Right fielder Gray Stafford, a former West Virginia Miner, has a team-high three home runs for the Herd, while left fielder Eric Escobedo has 25 RBIs.
Each team’s starters for the remainder of the series are to be determined. Marshall was scheduled to go with right-hander Aaron Blair (5-4, 2.36) Saturday, and would likely go with freshman Michael Taylor (3-5, 3.80) Sunday.
The Pirates would tentatively counter with David Lucroy (4-1, 2.01) and Ryan Williams (6-2, 4.02). Lucroy is the brother of Milwaukee Brewers catcher Jonathan Lucroy.
Marshall’s eight seniors — Ballou, Alfredo Brito, Nathan Gomez, Matt Hummel, Matt Kirkwood, Terrence Moore, Wayland Moore, and Stafford — will be honored before Saturday’s game. It’s a group that has helped put Epling Stadium at the baseball forefront in southern West Virginia — the Herd is 14-12 at the venue.
Waggoner would like to see plenty of green in Epling Stadium seats this weekend.
“The fans have a chance to see some really good pitching,” Waggoner said. “Jeff Hoffman could be a top draft pick next year and Aaron Blair could be this year.”
— E-mail: gfauber@