The story going into Tuesday night’s West Virginia-Marshall baseball clash at Appalachian Power Park was the renewal of an in-state series that hadn’t been played inside West Virginia’s borders for 15 years.
Marshall ace Aaron Blair rewrote the headlines.
In front of an entire section full of scouts pointing their radar guns and scribbling in their notebooks and an announced attendance of 1,664 bundled-up fans, the junior right-hander from Las Vegas pitched six hitless innings, striking out 11 Mountaineer hitters and dominating from start to finish in an 8-0 Herd victory in the opener of a three-game series that will stretch throughout the season.
“The thing we have to understand is that was one of three games,” said Marshall head coach Jeff Waggoner of MUs first win over the Mountaineers since 1991. “But what an opportunity for both clubs. It’s great for the state of West Virginia, and it was good to see a good turnout from Marshall fans.”
Blair (3-1), who was able to pitch in the weekday game because Marshall (9-10) doesn’t play a conference series this weekend, really only ran into trouble in the opening inning.
Two walks and a hit batsman allowed WVU (8-12) to load the bases before MU had even found an out, but Blair suddenly found his control. He got cleanup hitter Matt Frazer on a strikeout and, after going to a full count on Ryan Tuntland, got the same result on the WVU five-hitter.
Ryan McBroom struck out swinging to end the inning, and the Mountaineers never really mounted a threat again.
“As soon as Aaron got out of that jam, the momentum went on our side,” said Waggoner. “That set the tone for the rest of the game.”
WVU ended the game with just two hits off of Marshall pitching and struck out 17 times. The Mountaineers managed only nine baserunners on five walks and two hit batters and the two hits.
“Baseball’s a funny game in which one person can control the entire game”, said WVU first-year head coach Randy Mazey. “It’s not like basketball or football. You can defend one guy on those fields, but it’s hard to defend one guy on a baseball field. (Blair) was rusty early because they held him out this weekend to pitch against us, so he hadn’t been out there in a while. But when he caught his rhythm, he was pretty good.
“This was a big game for them. They came out fired up to beat the Mountaineers, and they dang sure did.”
Marshall, meanwhile, took advantage of WVU pitching, as the Mountaineers saved their best for an upcoming weekend series against Texas Tech. The Herd put numbers on the scoreboard in four of the first five innings, plating eight runs on nine hits and two Mountaineer errors.
WVU starter Zach Bargeron (0-1) lasted just one inning, allowing three runs, only one earned, on four hits and a walk.
The big blow, though, came off of WVU reliever Ryan Hostrander in the third inning, with Marshall already ahead 3-0. Eric Escobedo doubled off the left field wall with one out to drive in MU’s fourth run. Chase Vogelbach then singled up the middle to score two more, and the Herd broke the game open with a 6-0 lead.
“We didn’t do the three big things you have to do to win a game,” said Mazey. “It doesn’t matter who the best team is when you play a game. It’s the team that plays the best. And there’s no doubt who played the best.”
The only question from that point forward was if WVU would find a hit.
It didn’t against Blair, who left after throwing 105 pitches and allowing only two balls to leave the infield.
“I had some nerves going in that first inning, because it was a big game,” said the hard-throwing Marshall hurler, who said he had all three of his pitches — fastball, curveball, changeup — working well. “But I was able to settle down. After that, it was game on.
“It was a lot of fun out there, especially with it being WVU. That’s big.”
The first WVU hit finally came with nobody out in the eighth inning when Mountaineer leadoff hitter Bobby Boyd reached on an infield single off of reliever Josh King, who was sharp, as well, giving up only two hits and walking one to earn the three-inning save. The Mountaineers got a double off the bat of second baseman Billy Fleming in the ninth, but that was it.
Marshal was led at the plate by Vogelbach, who drove in a pair of runs on two hits. Nathan Gomez scored a pair of runs, as did former West Virginia Miner Gray Stafford, who was 1-for-2 with a walk. He was also hit by a pitch.
The Herd will play a four-game series at Radford this weekend, beginning with a Friday night contest. They’ll play two on Saturday and then one Sunday to conclude the set.
WVU will host Texas Tech in Charleston, beginning Friday at 6:30 p.m. Game 2 will be Saturday at 4 p.m., with the final game of the Big 12 series Sunday at 1 p.m. The Mountaineers won one game of a three-game series with Kansas State last weekend in its first-ever Big 12 series.
The MU-WVU series will resume on April 2 at Hawley Field in Morgantown for a 6 p.m. contest. It will conclude at Beckley’s Linda K. Epling Stadium May 14 at 6 p.m.
WVU holds a 38-22 in the all-time series between the Mountain State’s two largest schools.
— E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org and follow on Twitter @CamHuffmanRH.
Marshall 8, West Virginia 0
WVU: 000 000 000 — 0 2 1
MU: 123 020 00x — 8 9 0
WVU: Zach Bargeron, Ryan Hostrander (2), Ryan Tezak (4), Jared Hill (5), Corey Holmes (7), Pascal Paul (8) and Alan Filauro, Max Nogay, MU: Aaron Blair, Josh King (7) and Matt Kirkwood. WP — Blair. LP — Bargeron. S — King. Hitting — WVU: Bobby Boyd 1-3, Billy Fleming 1-3 (2B), MU: Isaac Ballou 1-3 (R), Andrew Dundon 1-4, Nathan Gomez 1-3 (2 R), Gray Stafford 1-2 (2 R), Eric Escobedo 1-3 (2B, RBI, R), Chase Vogelbach 2-3 (2 RBI, R), Aaron Bossi 1-4 (RBI, R), Sergio Leon 1-2 (2B, RBI).
Records: MU (9-10), WVU (8-12).