Herd Looks For Sweep Of UCF Sunday

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Marshall University senior Tommy Johnson continued a very good hitting weekend on Saturday when the MU catcher went 2-for-4, blasted his sixth home run, a double (third of the weekend) and drove in three runs for the second day in a row to help lead the Thundering Herd to a 9-6 victory over UCF in Saturday afternoon's Conference USA baseball game at Appalachian Power Park.

With the win, Marshall improved to 18-19-1 for the 2008 season and 6-7-1 in Conference USA. The Herd has now eclipsed its conference win total from a year ago and ensures its best record in league play since joining the league that has Rice, East Carolina and Houston all in the Top 25, according to Collegiate Baseball poll, and UH and Southern Miss both receiving votes in two other college baseball polls while the Owls and Pirates are ranked in all three. UCF falls to 26-15 on the season and 4-10 in conference action. The Knights opened the season 20-1, but sense then have won only six games in the last 20 contests.

Herd starter Steve Blevins picked up his team-leading fifth win (5-2) and pitched seven strong innings on the hill, allowing only one walk while striking out seven Knights. UCF starter Mitch Houch (3-2) suffered the loss after pitching 2.1 innings. He allowed seven runs on seven hits and walked four batters in eighth start of the season.

Marshall's offense, which scored 12 runs in Friday's series opening win over the Knights, picked up right where it left off, scoring four times in the bottom of the first inning. Tommy Johnson, Nate Lape, Victor Gomez and Jeff Rowley each smacked a pair of hits, while Lape and Johnson each recorded three runs batted in on the day. Brandon Casamassima stole a pair of bases in the game, while Josh Valle, Kurt Lipton and Matt Helm each stole a base in the winning effort played through the raindrops on Saturday afternoon.

Friday night, Lipton and Johnson combined for seven RBIs and three doubles to help pace Marshall to a 12-10 win over the Knights at Appalachian Power Park, the home of the South Atlantic League's West Virginia Power (Class A-Milwaukee Brewers).

Trailing 9-7, Marshall responded to UCF's five-run top of the sixth with a five-run frame of its own when Rowley, Casamassima and second baseman Kenny Socorro notched three straight singles to load the bases with no outs. Shortstop Adam Yeager reached on a fielder's choice on a chopper back to the mound, but the catcher for UCF dropped the ball for what might have been a 1-2-3 double play, and his fielding error at home allowed Rowley to score. A ground out scored Casamassima before Lape earned an intentional walk to keep the bases juiced. Lipton then smoked a three-run double to right center field to clear the bases for MU. UCF got out of the inning with a double play but Marshall took a 12-9 lead in the game and held on for the win with some mostly strong relief pitching.

Freshman Ian Kadish came on in relief of Andrew Hancock (who relieved starter Andrew Blain in the sixth inning. In the ninth, Arik Sikula picked up his fifth save of the season. He is tied with five other Marshall pitchers for third in saves in a season (Matt Wolle had seven for the record in 2007) and is also already tied for seventh on Marshall's all-time saves list as a true freshman. The first-year slinger allowed a run across in the final frame but fanned a pair to seal the victory, including a strikeout looking by UCF's Ryan Richardson to end the game with runners at first and third. Hancock, pitching just two-thirds of an inning, picked up the win and improves to 2-1.

Marshall had scored six runs in the third inning on only one hit for a 7-4 lead. A walk to Socorro was followed by a sac bunt by Yeager, who reached first on a fielder's choice when Knights' pitcher Cody Allen threw to second too late to get Socorro. Valle walked to load the bases before Lape earned a RBI the easy way, walking to force in the first run of the inning. Lipton reached on an infield fielding error to score Yeager, as the UCF third baseman picked up a ball headed foul just before it crossed the white line.

Johnson then cleared the bases with his second-consecutive first-pitch swinging double down the right field line. Gomez walked and Johnson advanced to third on a wild pitch. Rowley grounded into a double play, scoring Johnson with the sixth run of the inning. Right-hand reliever Brennan Dobbins, who entered for Allen following Johnson's triple, ended the inning with a strikeout. In the inning, MU had six runs on one hit, thanks to three walks, a sac bunt, fielder's choice, infield error and a RBI double play.

The Herd will look for the sweep Sunday morning, bright and early at 10 a.m. on April 20. The Power will play the Lexington Legends following the Herd-Knights game, beginning at 2 p.m. Rain and thunderstorms are predicted, however, so start times could be adjusted. You can hear the Herd on ESPN 930-AM in Huntington, and after the game download a pod cast of the game at www.wrvc.am on the worldwide web.

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