By J. Daniel Rollins
Register-Herald Sports Writer
Judging by the crowd gathered around Gray Stafford following Marshall University’s 4-1 victory over Morehead State, there were plenty of people happy to see him return to Linda K. Epling Stadium.
Judging by his performance, Stafford was even happier to be there.
“It’s awesome to come back to Beckley,” said Stafford, who helped lead the West Virginai Miners to a Prospect League championship last summer. “I love playing here. I’m really comfortable in this stadium.”
His comfort level showed.
Marshall scored three runs in the bottom of the third, including an RBI triple by Stafford to go up 3-0 on Morehead.
Two innings later, Stafford hit a deep home run over the left field wall to give the Herd an insurance run and a 4-0 lead.
“I just tried to clear my head and trust the work I put in this week,” Stafford said. “When I step into the box, I just stay clear, and whatever happens, happens.”
Stafford wasn’t just making plays with his bat.
Morehead State’s Alan Mocahbee hit a blooper to shallow right-center field. Stafford gave chase to it before laying out and diving for the save in a play Ken Griffey Jr. would be proud to witness.
“I didn’t think I had a shot to catch it,” Stafford said with a laugh. “I was acting like I was going to catch it. I realized I could take a couple more hard steps and lay out. I saw him hit it and thought there’s no way it stays down, but I stayed with it and caught it.”
The comfort level of playing at Epling Stadium even made Marshall skipper Jeff Waggoner smile.
“Gray (Stafford) had a good game. He played good defense,” Waggoner said.
“Something about this ballpark he loves to play in. Hopefully it gets him on a roll.”
Stafford isn’t the only one who loves playing in Epling Stadium.
The Herd have rattled off three straight victories in their home away from home.
“We love playing here,” Waggoner said. “The Epling family treats us really good, and we enjoy the ballpark. These guys look forward to coming here and playing.”
Marshall will play their next four on the road, including a series against Conference USA rival Memphis before returning to Beckley on May 10 for a three-game series with East Carolina. The Herd will then wrap up their series with West Virginia University on May 14 at Epling.
“No question about it. We’ve got two really good opponents our next games here,” Waggoner said. “Our guys like playing here and we’ve been playing well. Hopefully we can continue it against East Carolina and WVU.”
— E-mail: jrollins
@register-herald.com and follow on Twitter at @JDanielRollins.
Marshall 4, Morehead State 1
MS: 000 000 100 — 1 8 3
M: 003 010 00x — 4 7 0
MS: Tyler Keele, Dan Hyatt, Morgan Cirbo and Drew Williams, M: Chase Boster, Kyle Kessler, Kolin Stanley, Matt Margaritonda and David Diaz-Fernandez. WP — Boster. LP — Keele. Hitting — MS: Kane Sweeney 3-3, Brandon Rawe 3-4, Bobby Burns 1-4, Taylor Sears 1-2., M: Andrew Dundon 2-3 (R), Gray Stafford 2-4 (2 RBI, 3B, HR), Isaac Ballou 1-3 (RBI), Aaron Bossi 1-4.
Records: Marshall (17-26), Morehead State (15-31)