That was one of two home runs by the Herd, the other coming in the second inning off the bat of catcher Rich Russell, that helped to make a winner of nearby Grayson, Ky., senior Grant Harper. Harper, who is a former honorable mention Freshman All-American on the collegiatebaseball.com 2001 team, pitched eight innings, allowing only six hits and two runs while striking out four and issuing only one walk while facing 29 batters. Harper could have finished the game, but MU coach Dave Piepenbrink brought in fellow senior and closer Chris Meadows to pitch the ninth, as the Huntington senior had not pitched at all over the three games. Meadows allowed only one hit and no runs, fielding two of the three outs himself.
"They got a couple of cheap runs early on me," said Harper, "but my teammates were hitting the ball hard. I thought they would eventually pick me up and Corie and the rest did. We have quite a few seniors on the team and we have to be the "Daddy" to some of the young guys, picking them up when they are down, keeping them sharp. The (young pitchers) even call me the "old man", sometimes."
Harper, now 3-2 for the season, has been around long enough to write his name all over the Marshall record book. Sunday's win propelled him to 16 in his career and tied him for third all-time at Marshall with Kansas City Royals Hall of Fame member Jeff Montgomery, who won 16 for the Herd from 1981-83. He needs only three more wins to tie Albie DeYoung (1975-78) as the all-time winningest pitcher at Marshall with 19 wins in a career. Harper also passed Matt Spade (1992-94), a former Pittsburgh Pirate farmhand, for most career innings pitched, moving up to 255.0 in his career. He needs only 10 more to catch Sean Reeder (1997-2000) for second all-time in innings pitched. J.R. Watts (1995-98) is first in career innings with 299.2, certainly not out of reach for Harper, who had 96.1 innings last season. Harper added to his career appearances mark, making a MU best 81st appearance; Meadows passed Rick Paugh (1992-94), another former member of the Pirate organization, for seventh in career appearances with his 51st game.
Corie O'Bryan hit his first grand slam in three years and the first for Marshall in 2004. "It is one of those times where you come up, with the bases loaded and a 3-1 count, and you are looking for a fast ball to drive to the outfield to get a run in," said O'Bryan, a Frederick, Md., native. "I have to admit I was trying for a homer." O'Bryan's long-ball was his first of the season and the four runs-batted-in pushed him to 10 for the season, becoming the fifth batter in the Herd lineup with double-digit RBI totals. "We have nine seniors on this year's team," said O'Bryan, "and we expect to win. We've been through it two or three times and we have to lead the young guys by example."
Russell, a sophomore, was 2-for-4 on the day, with the homer, a run-scoring single, two RBI and two runs scored. Fellow soph and second baseman Marshall Murray had a 1-of-4 day, driving in a run and scoring twice. He stole a base (5-of-5 this year stealing bases), leading a pack of base thefts by Marshall players including senior designated hitter Francois Larmore (7-of-7 on steals for year and who had a bunt RBI single in the sixth, when MU scored three runs), junior right fielder Joe Glevenyak (third steal of season), sophomore left fielder Brad Helm (first of career with MU) and junior center fielder Chris Monaco, who leads the MAC by over a double-digit total, as he now has 19 steals in 24 attempts.
"We played our game today," said Piepenbrink. "We stole bases, bunted well but Harper flat out dealt. I was concerned if he could go (Harper strained his ankle in first inning of his last start) but he led the charge today, throwing strikes and giving up only one walk." Piepenbrink has some concerns, despite his team showing a record for 2004 of 10-11, and knowing the team is much improved over last year's 8-12-1 mark after 21 games. "I know exactly where our pitching is, unlike most years. We have great seniors doing the job starting, in the middle and Chris (Meadows) to close. Our defense is much improved this year, as well (two double plays in the Sunday game), but I wish I had an answer for what is going on, or not going on, with our offense. We are just not hitting as a team the way I know we can, going into next week's MAC opener (at Eastern Michigan University). Pitching and defense is the exact opposite of what Marshall has been known for in MAC play, where we have always hit the ball well."
Marshall travels to Lexington, Kentucky, Wednesday for a rare night-time start at 6:30 p.m. against the Kentucky Wildcats of the Southeastern Conference. Marshall will start Scott Henning (1-3) but probably throw four pitchers or more against the 'Cats as they ready for league play two days later. The Herd will return for Thursday classes, then head to Ypsilanti, Michigan, for three games to open the MAC seasons with the Eagles of EMU; Friday at 5:00 p.m., Saturday at 3:00 p.m. and Sunday at 1:00 p.m. at Oestrike Stadium. Marshall is expected to throw freshmen Brian Chrisman(2-0) and Chris Koutsavlis (1-2) along with Harper over the weekend series.