Baseball Rallies In 8th For 1st C-USA Win

On what is opening day in the major leagues, with the world champion Chicago White Sox hosting the Cleveland Indians tonight, it was a opening of sorts for the Marshall Thundering Herd baseball team. Like a child waiting for Christmas, the Herd had to wait until late before opening up its present, a three-run rally in the bottom of the eighth, along with outstanding relief pitching in the eighth and ninth, and the Herd picked up a hard-fought 6-5 win over UCF. MU is now 11-13, 1-5 in C-USA.

Marshall had not hit very well in the first two weeks of conference play, scoring only two runs and batting .145 at Houston last week. In game one at Charleston's Appalachian Power Park, the Herd's home this season for C-USA baseball, MU was shutdown by Central Florida and the preseason C-USA pitcher of the year, Tim Bascom, by the score of 18-1, coming up with just five hits. In game two Saturday, MU had the same amount of hits as UCF, 10-to-10, but were beaten 7-5 when the Herd left nine on base. That total included two runners in the seventh inning and runners at third in both the eighth and ninth innings. Marshall was stopped by the leader in saves in C-USA, UCF relief specialist Dominic Petracca, who allowed only one hit in an inning and one-third for his eighth save of the year. The Herd was 0-5, tied for last in C-USA with 0-3 UAB (who was out-of-conference this weekend, losing the first two games at Louisiana Tech on Friday and Saturday).

Although Petracca did not allow a run on Sunday, keeping his earned run average at 0.00, he did allow the game-winning run batted in by the Herd in the eighth. Marshall shortstop Aaron Levinson led off by breaking an 0-for-11 weekend with a opposite field single to right off UCF's Brian Brooks, who entered in the sixth (with UCF up 5-3) in relief of starter Kyle Sweat. Brooks then gave up a sharp single to left field to MU right fielder Brit Vincent, his third hit of the game. Center fielder Adam Ptacek placed a perfect sac bunt to move Vincent to second and Levinson to third.

The Golden Knights (18-13, 2-1 in C-USA) brought in right-handed Jaager Good, who took the loss (0-1), to face Brent Mason, the Herd second baseman. After fouling off two pitches with the count 1-and-2, Mason laced a hit into center that scored both Levinson and Vincent to tie the game 5-5. UCF head coach Jay Bergman then turned to Petracca to stop the Herd, but the Herd's left fielder Chris Monaco hit the first pitch he saw into left field to score Mason and give the Herd a 6-5 lead. Monaco was thrown out trying to take second, but had driven in the game-winning RBI.

In the ninth, Coach Dave Piepenbrink went to his aces. Brendon Bump got UCF second baseman Matt Horwath to ground out; Bryson Meyer, who is tied with Bump for team lead in ERA with each pitcher at 1.93 on the season, got pinch-hitter Bryant Bennett to ground out; and Brian Knipplemeyer picked up his team-leading third save of the year by getting pinch-hitter Mitch Houck to fly out to left to end the game. "We battled today," said Piepenbrink after the game. "We finally got the timely hits we had been lacking in other games in league play." Marshall escapes the league cellar by improving to 1-5, 11-13 overall.

Getting his first career win was a youngster from nearby Spring Valley High School, Andrew Blain, who pitched a one-hit eighth inning in relief of Herd starter Chris Koutsavlis. Koutsavlis threw 122 pitches in seven innings, 70 of them for strikes, and gave up five runs on eight hits. However, he allowed just two runs in innings two through seven. "Chris is our bulldog," said Piepenbrink. "We wanted him to give us five innings, but he really was tough in those final four innings of work, allowing no runs and just one hit." Koutsavlis tied the MU record for games started with his 45th of his career and has now pitched 272.1 innings in his MU career. He needs just 27.2 innings of work to be the all-time leader in that category and is now just one strikeout (171) behind Mark Doboney (1973-76) for eighth in strikeouts. He is tied for fourth in wins with 16 with KC Royal Hall of Famer Jeff Montgomery, and three wins from tying the all-time MU wins mark.

For the Herd, Monaco broke out over the weekend from a slump that had dropped his average to .236 for the year. He was 3-of-4 on Sunday, with a run scored, his team-leading fifth steal of the year and the GW-RBI. For the weekend, he was 5-for-8, scored two runs and had two RBI in the leadoff spot. Third baseman Adam Frederick for 4-for-10 on the weekend, picking up his fourth stolen base (on four tries), was hit by a pitch, scored three runs and had two RBI to go with two doubles. Vincent scored three runs and was 4-of-8 in three games in the seven-spot in the lineup. DH Brendan Murphy, 1-for-9 in games one and two, had two RBI on his team-leading 10th double. He also leads MU with seven homers and 32 RBI on the season. Mason was 3-for-7 with a triple, two doubles and three RBI.

In Conference USA action Sunday, Houston lost 3-0 at East Carolina (2-4, 18-12 in C-USA). The Cougars, 5-1 in C-USA and 18-13 overall, are tied now for the C-USA lead with their cross-town rival Rice, who swept No. 11 Tulane this weekend to improve to 5-1 in league play. The No. 6 Owls are a league-best 24-8 overall. No. 20 Southern Miss lost two-of-three at home to Memphis this weekend and fall to 4-2 in the league, 21-9 overall, and the Eagles are tied in the standings with UCF at a .667 winning percentage. The Tigers will come to play the Herd at 3-3 in league play and are 14-13 after Sunday's win.

Marshall will travel to Athens, Ohio for the 145th meeting with the Bobcats of Ohio University on Tuesday night at 6 p.m., under the lights at Bob Wren Stadium. Next weekend is a big Thundering Herd weekend in the capital city of Charleston, W.Va. Marshall will host the Tigers of Memphis in a three-game set at Appalachian Power Park on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and those games will be double-headers with the West Virginia Power, the South Atlantic League "A" squad of the Milwaukee Brewers. Admission is $7, $4 for MU students with ID, and includes both games of the double-dip. Also on Saturday, the MU football team will hold its annual practice in the Kanawha Valley at the University of Charleston Stadium, nee' Laidley Field, at Noon on Saturday. The practice is only about five blocks from Appalachian Power Park and numerous activities are planned for fans at both the football practice and baseball game. The Power will have fireworks on Friday night and give away Power squeeze bottles to fans on Saturday night. Call 1-800 THE HERD (437-4373) or check www.Herdzone.com for ticket information. The Power phone number is 304-344-BATS (2287) or check out their website at www.wvpower.com for information on promotions.


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