By Gary Fauber
Assistant Sports Editor
Clint Wilson was 1,200 miles away from his native Austin, Texas. He looked right at home in his return to Beckley.
Wilson, a junior right-hander, worked 2 1-3 innings of one-hit relief to pick up the win as Marshall defeated Florida Atlantic 5-0 on a windy Friday at Linda K. Epling Stadium.
It was the first decision of the season for Wilson, who pitched for the West Virginia Miners in 2011. He entered the game with a 6.11 earned run average, but was nearly unhittable as the Thundering Herd (10-17, 6-6 Conference USA) turned in its first shutout this year.
“It was great to see him come to Beckley. He spent a summer here and did a great job,” Marshall coach Jeff Waggoner said of Wilson, who pitched two seasons for JUCO national champion Navarro College. “Just glad to see him have an outing like that in front of the hometown crowd that he spent a summer with.”
“I had a good summer here, so it was nice to get back to ‘home’ turf,” Wilson said.
Wilson relieved starter Michael Taylor with two outs in the sixth and got Esteban Puerta to fly out to left with two runners on. He then pitched a perfect seventh and eighth, getting a tumbling catch in the wind from right fielder Eric Escobedo to end the seventh.
His day ended in the ninth when he gave up a long leadoff double to Ricky Santiago. The Owls (16-13, 5-9) went on to load the bases, but three Herd relievers held on to preserve the shutout.
Taylor got it started with a three-hit start, but was lifted after throwing 103 pitches in 5 2-3 innings. He struck out three and walked three.
Wilson’s performance was a potential confidence builder. In his first appearance of the season, Wilson was charged with four earned runs in an 8-0 Herd loss to Towson. Wilson was not involved in the decision, but it was certainly not the start to the year he had hoped for.
“Anytime you are a reliever and have a bad inning early in the year, obviously that can blow up your ERA,” Waggoner said. “But he has been pitching really good the last couple of weeks. You know what you are going to get out of him. He’s a competitor. He’s a team guy. Just really glad to see him come back around to the guy we recruited.”
“Mike threw well, threw what he could,” Wilson said. “That’s just the preparation our relievers put in so you know how to come in in a big situation and get out of a jam. Long relief appearances are good for our team. Save some arms for later in the series.”
Marshall was facing one of the conference’s top pitchers in Austin Gomber, a preseason all-league pick who is projected as a top 50 college prospect for June’s first-year players draft. The junior left-hander had six strikeouts and two walks in 6 1-3 innings. But he was victimized by the lack of run support and a couple of costly errors in the Herd’s three-run seventh.
“We haven’t scored a bunch of runs for him, so he goes out there with a mindset that he’s got to throw a shutout,” said FAU coach John McCormack, whose team has been shut out four times since a 6-0 loss at UTSA on March 8 ended a streak of 61 games without being blanked. “If we get down a little bit, he seems to get that ‘oh no, here we go again’ type of thing going on.”
The Herd broke through in the sixth. T.J. Diffenderfer doubled to the wall and took third when Tyler Rocklein bobbled the ball, then scored on a sacrifice fly by Matt Reed.
Marshall added three runs in the seventh to chase Gomber (2-5). Among the hits was a triple to the gap in right center by Diffenderfer, a 6-foot-5, 240-pounder hitting .203 going in, who pumped his fists after sliding into third.
“I’m not the fastest guy in the world, but I thought I could get it and it worked out for me,” said Diffenderfer, wearing No. 44 on the anniversary of the day Hank Aaron tied Babe Ruth for the career home run record 40 years ago. “I weigh 250 pounds — I don’t go to third base very often with one swing of the bat. I was extremely excited.”
Marshall finished with nine hits, six of them over the last four innings.
“(Hitting) is contagious,” Waggoner said. “Rob Fajardo had that big hit (a key double in the seventh) and guys fed off of it. We had (Gomber’s) pitch count up and we took good swings late in the game. That’s when you need it.”
The second game of the series is set for a 7 p.m. start tonight. Marshall’s Matt Margaritonda (2-3, 3.51) will start opposite Jeremy Strawn (2-4, 3.55) for FAU.
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FAU: 000 000 000 — 0 4 2
M: 000 001 31x — 5 9 0
FAU: Austin Gomber, Reily Monkman (7) and Kevin Abraham, M: Michael Taylor, Clint Wilson (6), Caleb Ross (9), Ryan Hopkins (9), Sam Hunter (9) and Matt Reed. WP — Wilson. LP — Gomber. Hitting — FAU: Tyler Rocklein 1-4, Ricky Santiago 1-2 (2b), C.J. Chatham 1-4, Abraham 1-3, M: Sergio Leon (rbi), Andrew Dundon 1-4 (rbi), Chase Vogelbach 1-4, T.J. Diffenderfer 2-4 (2b, 3b, 2 runs), Reed 1-3 (2 rbi), Aaron Bossi 2-4, Robert Fajardo 2-2 (2b, 2 runs).
Records: FAU 16-13, 5-9; M: 10-17, 6-6.