In picking up just the second win over the Golden Eagles (32-15, 9-7 in Conference USA) in ten games against Southern Miss since joining the league for baseball in 2006, Marshall also beat a top 30 team for the third straight year. The Herd took 2-of-3 from No. 28 Houston in 2007 in Charleston, W.Va. at Appalachian Power Park (Marshall's "home" field for C-USA games) and swept a doubleheader from No. 25-ranked James Madison at University Heights, the former home field for the Herd, in 2006.
The Herd was to play at the YMCA Kennedy Center Field, on Route 2 north of Huntington, but construction on the field and drainage problems have forced the Herd to play everywhere but Huntington. MU hopes to play three with Delaware State next weekend before heading to Houston and the C-USA Tournament in New Orleans two weeks later. Marshall, with an RPI of 90 this week and a strength of schedule of near 60th in the nation, improves to 5-8 on the year against top 50 competition. Marshall's 10 wins in C-USA is currently only second to No. 5/6 Rice's 15 wins.
Marshall's highly-challenging schedule of teams like No. 16 Kentucky, No. 24 Coastal Carolina, No. 18 N.C. State and Ohio State still to come, not to mention No. 5 Rice, No. 27 Tulane, No. 28 Southern Miss and No. 30 East Carolina in C-USA, seems to be paying off for Marshall head coach Jeff Waggoner, who should get consideration for C-USA Coach of the Year. No other coach has had to overcome no home field while posting a winning record so far in league play. "We want to play a challenging schedule," said Waggoner. "If we can win 30 with a challenging schedule, Conference USA has a history of sending four and five teams to the post-season. Our goal from day one has been to compete in the league and get to the regionals." Marshall's last appearance in the NCAA regional was in 1978, while the last winning season was 1994. Both were while Marshall was a member of the Southern Conference (1977-97), and the Herd has also a membership in the Mid-American Conference (1998-2005) since then.
Steve Blevins was not the only hero for the Herd, now 10-8-1 in Conference USA, 24-22-1 overall, in the win over Southern Miss. Blevins, however, is certainly within reach of winning nine games, the Marshall record for wins in a single season, set by J.R. Watts in 1998. Four other players have won eight in a year, while Blevins is now tied for third-most wins in a year. Senior catcher Tommy Johnson was 3-for-4 in the game including a three-run home run, his eighth of the season. Victor Gomez, the true-freshman DH of the Herd and the reigning C-USA Hitter of the Week, was 3-for-5 with three runs batted in and three runs scored, including two doubles that give him eight on the season. True-freshman right fielder Ben Jurevicius hit his first career triple and home run with the Herd, going 2-for-4 with three RBI and two runs scored.
Herd catcher Tommy Johnson drove in four runs and scored two more with a 3-of-4 performance in the Herd's 16-10 win over No. 28 Southern Miss at Appalachian Power Park Friday night in the first of three Conference USA games. photo from Herdzone.com
Southern Miss starter Josh Billeaud (pronounced "Bee-ho") was touched for 14 runs, 12 earned, on 13 hits in just 3.2 innings pitched and fell to 3-4 this season. Marshall sophomore Tyler Gatrell pitched two innings and gave up four runs on five hits, while senior Adam Dobies pitched the ninth and allowed two runs on two hits, but ended the game with a bases-loaded strikeout of Michael Ewing, who was 4-for-4 to that point with two doubles, three runs batted in and two runs scored. Ewing entered the game hitting just .198 on the year.
Marshall scored four runs in the first, the big shot a two-run double by Gomez. The Herd added five in the third, with three on the home run by Johnson. Marshall stretched a 9-0 lead to 14-2 with five more runs in the fourth, including a two-run triple by Jurevicius. Center fielder Nate Lape scored two runs on a 2-for-4 night while first baseman Josh Valle had three runs on a 1-of-3 evening with two walks, and left fielder Jeff Rowley was also 1-for-3 with two runs scored and two walks. Second baseman Kenny Socorro had a two-run, two-out single in the fourth and picked up another RBI with a walk in the fifth.
Southern Miss picked up two in the fourth, one run in both the fifth and sixth innings, only one of those earned off Blevins, then two runs each in the seventh, eighth and ninth off Gatrell and Dobies. Houston Brown came off the Southern Miss bench to pitch four innings of two-run, two-hit baseball, including Jurevicius' ninth-inning home run.
Rice leads C-USA with a 15-3 mark, 34-11 overall, and are off this weekend. Tulane is now second at 9-5-1 (31-13-1) after beating UCF, 5-2, but then things tighten up. Southern Miss, Houston (28-18 overall) and No. 30-ranked East Carolina (34-13 overall) are all 9-7 in Conference USA. That's a winning percentage of .563, just points ahead of Marshall at .553 and 10-8-1. Bringing up the rear of C-USA is Memphis at 4-11, .267, (16-29 in all games), who lost to Houston tonight, 7-4. Next is UCF at 5-14, .263, (27-20 overall) and UAB, who lost to ECU tonight, 13-6, trails the pack at 4-12, .250, and 19-25 overall. But with only eight of nine teams making the post-season tournament there is still plenty to play for among the bottom three teams.
The Herd and the Golden Eagles will meet in game two in Charleston, W.Va., at Appalachian Power Park at 7 p.m. (ET) Saturday night, then at Noon on Sunday for Senior Day. Dobies, Rowley and Johnson will be joined by Matt Helm and Andrew Hancock in being honored before Sunday's game. All games can be heard on ESPN 930-AM, and a pod cast of the games is available after the contest at www.wrvc.am on the web. Marshall will send Andrew Blain to the mound to face Southern Miss pitcher Todd McInnis Saturday, with MU's traily expect to face the Golden Eagles' Barry Bowden, returning from a month on the sidelines with an injury, on Sunday.