By Gary Fauber
Assistant Sports Editor
Marshall saw a little bit of everything that has made East Carolina one of the hottest teams in Conference USA. On Sunday, it came down to being able to scratch out a close win.
Jack Reinheimer’s sacrifice fly in the ninth inning scored Phillip Clark with the go-ahead run as the Pirates defeated Marshall 4-3 at Beckley’s Linda K. Epling Stadium. The win gave the Pirates their fifth straight conference series win.
ECU (28-23, 12-9) has won seven of its last 12 games decided by one run.
“We didn’t play very well. I don’t know who you credit that to,” Pirates coach Billy Godwin said. “We were lucky to get out of here with a series win. We’ve got to go back home and we have three days of work before we get to Central Florida and work some things out.”
The Pirates were held to a series-low four hits, although three were doubles. Drew Reynolds, the team’s leading hitter, was 0-for-5, ending his hitting streak at 14 games.
With the game tied 3-3 in the ninth, Clark and Bryan Bass walked consecutively to lead things off. With the infield playing in, Clark and Bass were able to steal second and third after Reinheimer swung though an offering from Josh King.
Reinheimer then flied out to right field and Clark scored to give the Pirates a 4-3 lead.
The Herd potentially caught a break when King was trying to intentionally walk Reynolds. Bass, who moved to third on Reinheimer’s sac fly, broke for home, retreated back to third and was gunned down by catcher Matt Kirkwood for the second out.
Reynolds grounded out to first to end the inning.
Isaac Ballou singled off Joseph Hughes to start the bottom half for the Herd but was erased at second when Nathan Gomez reached on a fielder’s choice. Eric Escobedo struck out and Chase Vogelbach bounced back to Hughes for the final out.
Marshall starter Michael Taylor surrendered three earned runs and did not record an out in the second. The freshman St. Albans native faced only seven batters, giving up two hits and walking a pair of batters.
Zach Houchins hit the first of his two doubles to lead off the second. After Chase McDonald walked, Ben Fultz doubled to drive in Houchins for the game’s first run.
Luke Lowery walked to load the bases, ending the day early for Taylor. Matt Margaritonda relieved and walked Jay Cannon on four pitches, allowing McDonald to score. After Clark struck out, Fultz scored on a groundout by Bass.
Both runs were charged to Taylor, and Margaritonda settled down from there. The sophomore pitched six innings of two-hit baseball, striking out six and walking four.
More importantly, he held the Pirates scoreless over his next five innings.
“Matt Margaritonda did a great job of keeping us in the game and gave us a chance to win,” Marshall coach Jeff Waggoner said. “We simply did not make adjustments.”
Marshall (19-31, 6-15) came up empty on two big chances to take the lead. The first came with the bases loaded and two out in the sixth, but ECU reliever Jake Harris struck out Ballou to end the threat.
In the eighth, Kirkwood walked, advanced to second on a sacrifice by Sergio Leon and went to third on a groundout by Andrew Dundon. Hughes relieved Harris and struck out Gray Stafford for the third out.
“We made some big pitches,” Godwin said. “I thought Harris made a big pitch to Ballou to punch him out. That was certainly a big point in the game. Then Hughes coming out there in the end, I thought he was outstanding.”
Marshall got a two-out run in the third when Stafford scored on an error to make it 3-1. The Herd then tied the game with two runs in the fifth.
Stafford hit his third triple of the year and scored on a single by Ballou. Gomez followed that with a double, but Ballou was thrown out at home. Gomez went to third on the throw and then scored on Eric Escobedo’s single to right.
Hughes (1-0) held Marshall to one hit and struck out two over 1 1/3 innings for the win.
King (1-3) allowed an earned run and walked four in two innings of work. He struck out one and did not allow a hit.
The Herd maintained its one-game lead over UAB for the eighth spot in the C-USA standings. Marshall will close the regular season with a three-game series at national power Rice, starting with a nationally televised game at 7:30 p.m. Thursday. The game can be seen on Fox College Sports.
Before that, however, Marshall will take on West Virginia at 6 p.m. Tuesday at Epling Stadium. The game can be heard on ESPN Radio 102.3 The Ticket.
It will be the rubber game of the season series. Marshall won the first game 8-0 March 19 in Charleston, then lost 10-2 April 2 in Morgantown.
The Mountaineers had been tied for the Big 12 lead but lost two of three to TCU over the weekend, including a 16-6 loss in Sunday’s finale.
“We’ve got our hands full with West Virginia coming in here,” Waggoner said. “That should be an exciting game. Hopefully we’ll have a good turnout.”
Tickets for the game are $10 and can be purchased by calling the West Virginia Miners ticket office at 304-252-SAFE (7233).
— E-mail: gfauber@
ECU: 030 000 001 — 4 4 1
MU: 001 020 000 — 3 9 2
ECU: Ryan Williams, Andy Smithmyer (6), Jake Harris (6), Joseph Hughes (8) and Luke Lowery, Travis Watkins (7), Sam King (8), MU: Michael Taylor, Matt Margaritonda (2), Josh King (8) and Matt Kirkwood. WP — Hughes. LP — King. Hitting — ECU: Bryan Bass 1-3 (rbi), Jack Reinheimer (rbi), Zach Houchins 2-4 (2 2b), Ben Fultz 1-3 (2b, rbi), Jay Cannon (rbi), MU: Andrew Dundon 1-5, Gray Stafford 2-4 (3b), Isaac Ballou 2-3 (rbi), Nathan Gomez 1-4 (2b), Eric Escobedo 1-4 (rbi), Aaron Bossi 1-4, Kirkwood 1-3.
Records: ECU: 28-23, 12-9; MU: 19-31, 6-15.