For the Herd, it was the first win over a team ranked in the Top 25 since February 22, 1995, ironically also against James Madison. The Thundering Herd won in Harrisonburg, Virginia by a score of 9-6 over the then-No. 19 Dukes under former Herd head coach Howard McCann. Marshall now leads the all-time series 3-1. "It's a great win for our kids," said Marshall head coach Dave Piepenbrink, "coming back to beat a top ranked team after the way we had played in the last four games." Marshall had been shutout by UVA last week, also ranked in the Top 25, then scored only two runs in the Conference USA opening series at Houston. "It was good to be home and to get the bats swinging again."
Marshall (10-11) rallied from being down 6-1 in the middle of the second to take the 7-6 lead into the seventh by scoring in each of the first five innings. The Herd took the lead in the fifth inning on a two-run home run to left field by shortstop Aaron Levinson, his first of the season, scoring left fielder Roddy Stieger, who had doubled, tying for the team lead with his ninth two-bagger of the season. "Levinson's been struggling," said Piepenbrink, "so we told him to just go up and look for a pitch to hit, and he got all of it." Steiger, who entered this year with a career .244 average, was 3-for-5 in the second game, 5-of-9 for the twinbill and raised his average to .366 for the year.
JMU wasted no time in tying the contest, as Kellen Kulbacki launched his second homer of the contest, a solo shot that cleared the scoreboard in right-center field.The JMU centerfielder leads college baseball with now 15 home runs on the season and is batting over .500 on the season, among the nation's leaders there as well. The Herd trailed 8-7 heading into the bottom of the ninth after the Dukes broke a 7-all tie in the top of the ninth on a catcher Dan Santobianco's RBI single. MU third sacker Adam Frederick just beat out a bunt single and moved up after a walk to DH Rich Russell. First baseman Brendan Murphy followed with an RBI single, his team leading 30th run-batted in of the season, to score Frederick and advance pinch runner Matt Helm, in for Russell, to third.
After an out, Levinson loaded the bases with a walk, but the Herd picked up its second out of the ninth on another strikeout. Herd catcher Tommy Johnson, who made his return to the lineup in the twinbill after starting the season on the sidelines with a broken wrist, coaxed a walk to push home Helm with the winning run. Johnson, who hit .308 as a freshman, returned to the lineup with a bang in the doubleheader with the Dukes. Johnson was 1-of-2 in game one, with four RBI including a three-run homer to give the Herd the lead. He was 3-for-4 in game two, along with another game-winning RBI.
Kulbacki hit two homers and had four RBI for the Dukes in game two. Brian Knippelmeyer earned his first win of the year after pitching the final 1.2 innings of the game, the seventh Herd hurler to appear in game two. MU's six relief pitchers only allowed two runs in the final 7.2 innings of the game. JMU's Geoff Degener (0-1) took the loss for JMU.
James Madison (19-7) grabbed an early 4-0 lead in the first inning. Davis Stonebrenner led off with a triple down the right field line and he scored on a single by Kulbacki. After back-to-back outs, Nate Schill singled to score Kulbacki and Lee Bujakowski walked. Santobianco followed with a two-run double to give JMU a 4-0 lead. The Herd scored a run in the bottom of the first on a Frederick solo home run, but the Dukes came right back in the second with a two-run homer from Kulbacki.
Marshall started chipping away at the lead in the second inning on an RBI single from Brit Vincent and Bobby Lasko wild pitch, which scored Vincent. In the third, the Herd scored on a solo home run by Stieger, his fourth blast of the year. Marshall added another run in the fourth on an RBI triple by Jimmy Mathias , which scored Johnson and helped the Herd close the lead to 6-5. MU took the lead on Levinson's first homer, 7-6.
Game one was the completion of a suspended game started on Tuesday, but rained out after four complete innings. Marshall used back-to-back four-run innings, over two days, to rally and post an 8-6 victory over JMU. Marshall trailed in this game as well, but came back to sweep the No. 25 Dukes, and the pair of wins are believed to be Marshall's first back-to-back wins over ranked teams since the 1978 Herd beat Florida State and Clemson in the first two games of the NCAA Atlantic Regional in Coral Gables, Florida, when the Herd just missed advancing to the College World Series. Johnson made his first appearance of the season solid, as he hit a three-run home run and drove in four runs. Murphy went 3-for-5 with a homer, his team-leading seventh home run of the year, and also added two RBI and two runs scored.
Chris Koutsavlis earned the win after tossing 1.2 innings of relief. Koutsavlis, the MU leader in wins at 4-2, allowed four hits and three earned runs while walking three and striking out one. Koutsavlis tied former MU pitcher Jeff Montgomery, a member of the Kansas City Royals Hall of Fame with over 300 professional saves, for fourth all-time at Marshall in career wins with his 16th of his career. He also passed Sean Reeder for third in career innings pitched (265.1 IP).
Former catcher Nick Wolle picked up his first career save on the hill for the Herd, going 3.1 innings while allowing two hits and striking out five with a fastball topping out at 94 miles per hour. "We're trying to be careful how we use our bullpen, and Nick hasn't thrown that much," said Piepenbrink. "But (pitching coach) Rick Reed said, 'Let's stay with the guy getting people out' and Wolle was great, hitting between 91 and 94 on the gun. It turned out to be a great move, when we needed six relievers in game two to stick with Wolle." Kurt Houck (0-1) took the defeat for JMU, allowing four runs (three earned), two hits and two walks over two-thirds of an inning.
Marshall rallied with four runs in the fourth inning. With one out, Murphy drilled a home run to dead center. After a strikeout, Levinson was hit by a pitch and Vincent walked. Johnson followed with his first hit of the 2006 season, a three-run opposite-field blast to right field, which gave Marshall a 4-3 lead. Shortly after, the game was halted because of the steady rains.
When play resumed Wednesday, the Dukes wasted no time regaining the lead. JMU loaded the bases with no outs, then scored on a Mitchell Moses sacrifice fly and a Nate Schill single to right. Marshall responded with a four-spot in the bottom of the fifth, with all the runs scoring with two outs. With one out, Frederick walked and then scored on an RBI double by Murphy. Stieger followed with a single and an errant throw to first allowed Murphy to score. Levinson and Vincent were then hit by pitches to load the bases and Johnson followed with a walk to force in a run. Second baseman Brent Mason was then hit by a pitch to bring in another run and give the Herd an 8-5 lead. James Madison scored a run in the sixth, but Wolle came in to shut the door and held the Dukes' potent offense scoreless over the final 3.1 innings.
Marshall plays its first Conference USA home games this weekend, beginning at 7:00 p.m. Friday, as the Thundering Herd plays host to UCF at Appalachian Power Park in Charleston, W.Va. The one-year old ballpark, featured on a calendar of America's finest minor league facilites, is the home of the West Virginia Power, a South Atlantic League "A" team of the Milwaukee Brewers, who set a Mountain State baseball record attendance with near 250,000 attending games at Appalachian Power Park in 2005.UCF will play the Herd Friday night, Saturday at 7:00 p.m. and Sunday at Noon, with Sunday's game heard on WRVC 930 AM in Huntington. Tickets are $7 for the public, $4 for MU students with ID, but those tickets must be picked up at the MU ticket office at the Cam Henderson Center on the Marshall campus. Season ticket packages are available, including six doubleheaders with the Power, and more than 70 season ticket packages have already been sold for games in Conference USA with UCF, Memphis and highly-ranked Southern Miss and Rice.