Marshall Baseball Off To 14-5 Start In 2007

Marshall baseball is off to the best start in nearly two decades with a 14-5 start, including an outstanding 9-0 mark in one-run games for new head coach Jeff Waggoner. The Herd will open Conference USA play on Friday when the Green Wave of Tulane comes to Charleston to face MU at Appalachian Power Park for three games, all on WRVC 930 AM. Friday's game starts at 7 p.m.; Noon Sat. and 11 a.m. Sun.

With Marshall off to such a great start entering C-USA play, you have to go back to one of the teams of legendary Marshall coach Jack Cook, in 1988 and 1978, to find another Marshall team with 14 wins in its first 19 games. That 1978 team went onto post a 27-13 overall mark, 11-1 in winning the Southern Conference and advancing within a game of the College World Series with two wins in the NCAA Regional, while the 1988 team finished 23-17. Waggoner's start is the second-best ever for a first-year head coach, with a wins mark of 74 percent. Roy "Legs" Hawley posted an 81 percent win mark in 1933, taking that Herd club to a 9-2 mark and the first of three consecutive Buckeye Conference Championships.

Marshall, who split two games this week at James Madison (losing 12-4 on Tuesday but winning 10-5 on Wednesday behind a Brendan Murphy home run, a three RBI day for second baseman Josh Valle and 6.1 innings for Ryan Kiel, who improved to 3-1 and struck out a career high eight) has not posted a winning season since Howard McCann's fourth club was 23-20 and has not been close to winning any titles or post-season play since Cook's last club in 1989 lost in the Southern Conference title game to Western Carolina by a 4-2 score. Marshall's made the Conference USA tournament in its first season in one of college baseball's best leagues, the first appearance in a conference tournament since going 1-2 in the 1995 SC Tournament. The Herd never advanced to the Mid-American Conference Tournament during its membership (1998-2005). The last conference title was in 1978, and that is Marshall's only baseball titles that did not come in the Buckeye in the 1930s or the four consecutive titles in the West Virginia Athletic Conference from 1928-1931, when the Herd was a charter member, starting in 1925, of today's WVIAC Division II league.

This year's start has been a nice mix of returning veterans, newcomers and some of the best pitching for the Herd in a number of seasons. The Marshall team earned run average is just 3.81, led by three undefeated pitchers and an unexpected closer in Nick Wolle. Wolle has six saves already for the Herd, tying the all-time season record set by Chris Meadows in 2004, and in his only blown save he picked up a win on March 17 by thowing 2.2 innings of three hit, no run baseball. His ERA is 0.87, an amazing bounce back from his first season on the mound after two years at catcher. Wolle was 0-6 last season with an ERA of 6.75 but this year's mark is only second on the team to another short reliever in true freshman Tyler Gatrell, who in four appearances has not allowed an earned run.

Also off to nice starts are a pair of 3-0 pitchers in starter Brian Chrisman (3.33 ERA and team-leading 27 strikeouts) and reliever Andrew Blain (3.46 ERA). In Blair's first season in 2006, he posted a team low 2.25 ERA that was even better against C-USA teams at 1.59 and was 1-0 with a save last year. Chrisman was second on the Herd last season with three wins and led in strikeouts with 59. Adam Dobies, who pitched in five games last season and posted a 1-1 mark, is 2-0 on the year with a low ERA among the Herd's top three starters of 2.84. Dobies has allowed no home runs this season. The third starter is senior Jeremy Sloan, who is 1-1 with a 5.68 ERA. Sloan is second in strikeouts with 17 and is tied with Dobies with 25.1 innings pitched on the year. Newcomer Ryan Kiel, a transfer from the University of Arizona, is at 2-1 so far with a 2.45 ERA in three appearances and two mid-week starts.

On the hitting side, there is also a nice mix of newcomers with returners. Junior Matt Helm has exploded since winning the starting third base job this season. He leads the team with a .375 average, also with five sacrifices, and had a 5-for-8 weekend with three runs batted in. Returning senior outfielder Brit Vincent struggled over the weekend with Canisius, but still is hitting .288 since moving from right to left field for the 2007 season. Pre-season All-C-USA player Brendan Murphy had a home run, double and two RBI over the weekend and leads Marshall with five doubles. He is second in home runs (four) and RBI (13).

Leading the Herd is sophomore shortstop Brandon Casamassi, who signed with the Herd out of Grayson County Community College. The Texas native has five home runs, including a three-run home run that tied Saturday's 8-7 extra-inning win over the Golden Griffins in game one of the three game sweep, and leads with 15 RBI. He may be the best fielding shortstop at Marshall since MU Hall of Fame members Greg Hill (1980-83) or Dave Piepenbrink (1987-90). Also hitting well is junior college transfer Nick Damas. Joining the Herd from South Suburban Community College, where his team played in the Junior College World Series, Damas has split time in right field (with senior Chris Peak) and has hit .333, including a 4-for-7 weekend including a double and four RBI. Another newcomer over .300 for the year is local Cabell Midland High School product Mason Chapman, who hit .456 for the Kinghts and stole 26 bases. The true freshman has started every game but one in center field, hitting .306 and stealing his first base of his career over the weekend. Blake Sanders, who had a 1-for-2 day in a start on Sunday with two sacrifices, is hitting .400 in nine games and five starts. Sanders is another true freshman, coming to Marshall from Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, where he hit .446 and turned a Florida HS record 39 double plays in one season.

Waggoner has a staff with little college experience, but years of baseball knowledge. Pitching coach Tim Adkins pitched over 400 games and more than 1,000 innings in minor league baseball. Adkins, a former West Virginia HS Player of the Year at Wayne HS, as well as an All-American, and a ninth-round selection of the Toronto Blue Jays that same year (1992), was 57-50 with a 3.85 ERA in a career that included four stops in AAA. He founded and helped coach the Huntington Hounds summer travel team, and that program has put 117 players into college programs and had 15 drafted by major league teams. Adkins' high school coach, George Brumfield, is a volunteer assistant and brings a wealth of baseball knowledge. Brumfield won four state titles at Wayne and finished as runners-up five other times. He won 516 games in 27 seasons and sent 35 players to play in the professional ranks or to college. Assistant Tim Donnellyis just in his third year of coaching since graduating from Hardin Simmons University in 2004, but has a major league background. His father, Rich, is currently the third base coach for the Los Angeles Dodgers and Tim served as a bat boy under his dad with the Pittsburgh Pirates (1992-96), Florida Marlins (1997-98) and Colorado Rockies (1999-2002). The Marlins were World Series champs while the Donnellys were there in 1997.

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