Marshall wanted a win, and not just for the obvious reason.
On Senior Night, when eight seniors were honored on the field that has become one of their homes away from home, the Thundering Herd defeated East Carolina 4-3 Saturday at Beckley’s Linda K. Epling Stadium.
It was the 15th win at Epling Stadium for the Herd, which helped christen the venue in 2010. Seniors Isaac Ballou, Alfredo Brito, Nathan Gomez, Matt Hummel, Matt Kirkwood, Terrence Moore, Wayland Moore and Gray Stafford were all recognized in a home plate ceremony before the game.
Marshall got to Conference USA saves leader Drew Reynolds in the eighth, scoring two runs in the eighth. Both runs were charged to Brett Mabry (3-3), but it was Reynolds’ fourth blown save in 16 chances.
“Probably more than anything, if you asked any of the seniors what they wanted tonight, it was a win,” Marshall coach Jeff Waggoner said. “And we gave it to them. You can’t honor them in a better way.”
Beyond the sentimental value, the win also returned Marshall (19-30, 6-14) to sole possession of the eighth and final spot in the C-USA standings. The top eight teams in the nine-team league advance to the conference tournament.
The Herd fell into a tie with UAB Friday night after the Blazers defeated Houston 8-7. UAB fell to the Cougars 11-2 Saturday, giving Marshall a one-game edge.
Marshall, which ended a four-game losing streak, had to like its chances with ace Aaron Blair getting the start. Blair is not a senior, but he won’t be back next year — a throng of Major League scouts were on hand to watch Blair, who is projected as a first- or second-round pick in next month’s first-year players draft.
Blair wasn’t dominant, walking five and allowing seven hits over 6 2/3 innings. He also hit a batter in his 118-pitch outing.
He was in line to take the loss when he was pulled in the seventh after the Pirates (27-23, 11-9) scored twice to take their only lead of the game. Both runs were scored with two outs.
Zach Houchins singled and Chase McDonald walked before Ben Fultz reached on an error by shortstop Sergio Leon to load the bases. Philip Clark, who stayed in the game after pinch-hitting for catcher Luke Lowery in the sixth, bunted toward the left side of the infield.
Blair scrambled from the mound to field the ball and threw desperately to home to try to get Houchins, but his throw was wild. Houchins scored and McDonald raced in from second to put the Pirates ahead 3-2.
That ended the day for Blair, who finished with five strikeouts.
“He was amazing,” Waggoner said of Blair despite the pedestrian numbers. “All the way from the start to the (end), he really pitched. That’s been Aaron. His pitchability is off the charts. He competed and you know what you’re going to get every time (he goes) out there.”
ECU starter David Lucroy was impressive, striking out 11 and holding Marshall to three hits over 5 2/3 innings in the no-decision.
The first three runs of the game were scored on wild pitches. The Herd went ahead 1-0 in the fifth when pinch-runner Robert Fajardo scored after a Lucroy pitch got away from Lowery.
Waggoner thought the biggest moment of the game helped set up that first run.
Brito worked a full-count walk to lead off and was lifted for Fajardo, who stole second and went to third on a single by Aaron Bossi. He then came around on the wild pitch.
“The senior stepped up and had a great (at-bat),” Waggoner said of Brito. “We were able to pinch-run and execute a run right there.”
The Pirates tied the game in the sixth when Blair threw over catcher Matt Kirkwood’s head, allowing McDonald to score.
Marshall went back on top 2-1 in the bottom half when Ballou came in on Lucroy’s third wild pitch of the game.
Mabry hit Stafford and walked Ballou to start the bottom of the eighth before being replaced by Reynolds, who leads the league with 12 saves. Reynolds was able to force Stafford at third on a fielder’s choice by Gomez, but sophomore Eric Escobedo’s long single to left scored Ballou with the tying run.
After Chase Vogelbach struck out, Bossi reached on a throwing error by Bryan Bass and Gomez scored to make it 4-3.
“We shot ourselves in the foot, and not with the error,” ECU coach Billy Godwin said. “Even before that, when you hit a guy and walk a guy late in the game, that’s going to come back to haunt you. I thought that was the difference. They competed well. We just didn’t win.”
Ryan Hopkins (3-3), who replaced Blair, tossed a perfect ninth and got the win.
Reynolds singled in the first to extend his hit streak to 14 games for ECU.
The rubber game of the series is set for 1 p.m. today. Marshall’s Michael Taylor will start for the Herd against Ryan Williams for the Pirates, who will be looking to win their fifth straight series.
— E-mail: gfauber
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