By Gary Fauber
Assistant Sports Editor
Individually, Aaron Blair couldn’t ask for much more than the way his junior season is turning out. An earned run average well under three. Wins over a nationally-ranked team and potentially the Big 12 champion. A pair of national awards.
He would also like to see his team have just as much success.
“I just wish we could find a way to come out with more wins,” the Marshall junior said.
The Thundering Herd is struggling to make its way into the Conference USA tournament, which starts May 22 at Rice’s Reckling Park in Houston. Marshall (18-29, 5-13) leads UAB by a single game in the race for the eighth and final spot in the tournament.
Marshall has two more conference series remaining, including this weekend when it hosts East Carolina at Beckley’s Linda K. Epling Stadium. Games on Friday and Saturday will both start at 7 p.m., with the finale on Sunday starting at 1 p.m.
Blair (5-4) will likely start the second game of the series on Saturday. It will probably be the last chance for fans who show up to see Blair live. The right-hander from Las Vegas is projected to be an early selection in the first-year players draft in June.
One mock draft has him going to Detroit with the 39th overall pick, which would be the last of five post-first round lottery picks, an inaugural concept designed to help teams that are among the lowest payrolls in Major League Baseball.
The present has been as successful for Blair as his future seems to be. He ranks among the league leaders in several categories, including ERA (2.36, eighth) opponents’ batting average (.176, second) and strikeouts (78, fifth). He has allowed just one home run in 72 1/3 innings.
“I’m just going out and doing what I have done for a long time,” Blair said.
Twice this season, Blair has been named the conference’s pitcher of the week. The first came after he had 11 strikeouts and didn’t allow a hit over six innings in an 8-0 win over West Virginia, which the Herd will play next Tuesday at Epling Stadium. He was also honored after his eight-inning two-hit win over then-No. 19 Houston.
The performance against Houston earned Blair national recognition — the Louisville Slugger and NCBWA National Pitcher of the Week Awards.
Last week, Blair was named to the midseason watch list for Golden Spikes Award, given annually by USA Baseball to the nation’s top amateur baseball player.
Blair is accustomed to more team success than he is currently seeing.
In 2010 he played for the Ohio Warhawks, which won a national championship. Last summer he played in the prestigious Cape Cod League, where he led the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox to the championship series. Blair pitched the second game, striking out 10 and holding the Wareham Gateman to two hits over seven innings in a 5-1 win that forced a decisive Game 3.
The Red Sox went on to lose the series, but Blair will cherish the experience of playing in the Cape.
“It was a lot of fun up there,” Blair said. “I’ll always remember the team and having an amazing coach and host family and the communtiy. It was everything people talk about.”
One thing people will also talk about is what happened to Blair last Saturday.
In the first game of a doubleheader at Memphis, Blair was intentionally walking a batter with one out in the ninth inning of a scoreless game when he threw a wild pitch that allowed the Tigers to win 1-0.
“It was something that should never happen,” he said. “Pitchers learn as freshmen in high school how to throw an intentional walk. I let my mind slip for a second or two and it cost our team a win.”
Blair is counting on more concentration from himself and his team this weekend. He pitched at Epling Stadium his freshman and sophomore seasons and left with a definite impression.
“I know the ball travels well there,” he said. “If the ball is hit in the air it will travel some distance, so I know when I pitch there I have to keep the ball down.
“If we go out and play like I know we can, we have the talent, from the top of the lineup to the bottom, from the bench and the pitchers. We just have to play team baseball. We have not done that the last couple of weeks and it has cost us.”
Admission to each game is $5.
— E-mail: gfauber@