By Cam Huffman
College baseball bragging rights in the Mountain State will be decided tonight at Linda K. Epling Stadium in Beckley when West Virginia and Marshall meet for the rubber game of a three-game series at 6 p.m.
Here’s everything you need to know about tonight’s battle on the artificial surface.
WVU holds a 39-22 advantage in the all-time series against the Thundering Herd. Before this season, the teams had not played since meeting in Myrtle Beach in 2008. Prior to that, the teams hadn’t played since 1998 when they met in Charleston. WVU has won 15 out of the last 18 encounters between the two clubs.
Marshall won the first meeting between the state’s two Division I baseball programs this year, knocking off the Mountaineers 8-0 on March 19 at Appalachian Power Park in Charleston. It was the Herd’s first victory over WVU since 1991.
Marshall ace Aaron Blair was the star of that contest, pitching six no-hit innings with 11 strikeouts before exiting the game. Without a conference series the following weekend, MU was able to put its best on the hill against the Mountaineers, while WVU had to save some pitching for an upcoming Big 12 series. The WVU bats were no match for Blair.
WVU found some revenge back at Hawley Field in Morgantown on April 2 when senior catcher Alan Filauro hit a pair of home runs to lead WVU to a 10-2 win over the Herd. The WVU catcher finished 3-for-3 with four runs scored and four RBIs. The Mountaineers outhit Marshall 13-5.
Head coach Jeff Waggoner’s club will come into tonight’s game with a 19-31 overall record and a 6-15 mark in Conference USA. MU played this past weekend in Beckley, losing two out of three in a conference series with East Carolina. The Herd has lost five out of its last six games and currently sits eighth in the nine-team C-USA race, a half-game in front of UAB.
First-year head coach Randy Mazey has led his Mountaineers to a 30-22 record with a 12-9 mark in the Big 12. With one week left in the conference schedule, the Mountaineers are tied with Oklahoma for second pace in the conference, two games behind Kansas State.
WVU had won eight of its last 10 games after beating TCU 2-0 in the first game of a three-game set in Charleston last weekend, but the Horned Frogs won the final two to drop the Mountaineers out of the Big 12 lead and end the winning streak.
Isaac Ballou, OF. The senior is hitting .316 with 15 doubles, two triples, 18 RBIs and 11 stolen bases. He has two hits against the Mountaineers this season.
Andrew Dundon, IF. The sophomore is hitting .301 with six doubles and 10 stolen bases.
Gray Stafford, OF. The former West Virginia Miner has always hit well at Linda K. Epling Stadium. He hit .286 this summer with 11 homers and 36 RBIs for the Prospect League champions. This year for MU, he’s batting .258 with 12 doubles and 23 RBIs.
Ryan McBroom, 1B. The junior led the Mountaineers with a 5-for-12 performance that included two runs, one double, one homer and five RBIs in the series with TCU. He’s hitting .280 for the season and leads the team in doubles (16), home runs (11) and RBIs (43).
Jacob Rice, LF. The junior went 5-for-11 with two runs scored against the Horned Frogs.
Ryan Tuntland, 3B. Another junior, Tuntland leads the team with a .345 batting average. He’s scored 29 runs and driven in 31.
Neither team has released a probable starter for tonight’s game, although freshman left-hander Alex Thackston (1-3, 3.90 ERA) will likely get the call for the Herd. A decision should be made sometime this afternoon.
Both coaches will likely be attempting to save their best arms for the weekend. WVU begins a three-game set at Oklahoma State on Thursday, while Marshall will begin a three-game series with Rice in Houston, Texas, that same day.
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING
“We’ve got our hands full with West Virginia coming in here. That should be an exciting game. Hopefully we’ll have a good turnout.” — Marshall head coach Jeff Waggoner
“It can be tough, but if we prepare, I don’t think it will be too tough to not overlook it.” — WVU outfielder Jacob Rice on playing Marshall two days before the start of the final Big 12 series
The skies should finally be free of precipitation tonight. The forecast is calling for a game time temperature of around 64 degrees with no chance or rain. It should remain in the 60s throughout the length of the game, making it a perfect evening for baseball.
Tickets for tonight’s game are available for $10 by calling the West Virginia Miners ticket office at 304-252-7233. They will also be available at the gate.
WVU drew 2,053 fans to watch the opener of its Big 12 series against Kansas in Beckley last month, and with state bragging rights and the series victory on the line, stadium officials are hoping for another big turnout tonight.
CAN’T GET THERE?
A radio broadcast of the game can be heard on ESPN Radio 102.3 The Ticket in Beckley.