Marshall-Tulane Pushed Back To 9:15 p.m.

Marshall baseball will open the 2008 Conference USA Baseball Tournament, sponsored by Entergy, in New Orleans on Wednesday evening against the host Tulane Green Wave. While some would think the Herd caught a tough draw, playing Tulane at Turchin Stadium, Marshall head coach Jeff Waggoner could not be more pleased with both his first round opponent and the draw for Marshall in the bracket.

Because the No. 2-seeded Southern Miss 8-5 win over No. 7 UCF was running late, the Marshall-Tulane match-up was pushed back to about a 9:15 p.m. (ET) starting time. Earlier today, No. 4 Houston edged No. 5 East Carolina in 10 innings, 5-4. Upset of the day was No. 8 UAB knocking off No. 1 seed Rice, the Owls second-ever loss in C-USA Tournament play. It is only the second time in 12 years of Conference USA baseball that a No. 8 has knocked off a number one, but Rice had three errors on the day. The Blazers scored eight runs on 14 hits, including five doubles, against the No. 7 team in the national rankings. As has been the case most of the season, Ryan Keedy was the star for UAB. The senior was 3-for-4 with three RBI, adding to his school record for doubles with a pair of two-baggers, his 28th and 29th of the season as the Blazers were winning 8-2 over Rice. The Owls now face the Pirates in an elimination game on Thursday at 10 a.m. (ET).

As to the Marshall game, Jeff Waggoner thinks his team won't need a pep talk tonight. "I'm pretty sure that (Tulane) is a team that the guys are pretty excited about," said Waggoner on ESPN 930 AM on Monday. The Marshall flagship AM will carry all games in the tournament, beginning Wednesday at 8:30 p.m. Eastern time, then Thursday's game, either at 8:30 p.m. (with a win) or 1:30 p.m. (if MU loses). "This was the match-up our team was looking forward to. We are excited to get started, and had a good practice on Monday here in New Orleans." The Herd finished the season 26-28-1, 10-13-1 in league play. Marshall's last winning season was 1994, and the best record since then was 27-27 (10-13 in the MAC) in 2004.

One win in the C-USA tournament would tie the Marshall record for wins at 27, first set by the 1978 team. This despite the Herd not playing a single true "home" game this season. All C-USA games have been played an hour from Huntington in Charleston for three years at the minor league Appalachian Power Park. Non-conference games were played at University Heights (1985-89; 1998-2007), about 15 minutes from campus, but the Herd planned to move to the YMCA Kennedy Center on Route 2 North, also about 15 minutes outside of Huntington for 2008. A wet spring, however, prevented games at the field following improvements in the fall of 2007. MU traveled to Ohio, Eastern Kentucky and Morehead State for all games and played Valparaiso at Louisa, Kentucky; Kent State at Montgomery, W.Va., 30 minutes west of Charleston; and Delaware State at Spring Valley High School in nearby Wayne County.

Part of the reason Marshall was successful was pointed out on Tuesday, when three members of the Herd made the All-Conference USA teams. Nate Lape was named first team all-league, leading the league in slugging percentage (.688) and is second in batting average. Pitcher Steve Blevins and DH Victor Gomez were named to the second team, and this is the first time since 2000 Marshall has had three baseball players named all-league in the same season. Gomez was also named to the C-USA All-Freshman Team, as Josh Valle was in 2007.


Adam Yeager has 38 steals for the 2008 Thundering Herd, two short of the single season record as the Herd meets Tulane on Wednesday night in New Orleans at the C-USA Tournament.picture from HerdZone.com

There were hard feelings on both sides when Marshall traveled to Tulane in early April for a three-game set. The Herd was informed they had missed the time for batting practice, then were further informed Tulane did not want Marshall to use the batting cages during the Green Wave BP. Next, Waggoner was accused to disrespect when he addressed Tulane head coach Rick Jones as "Rick." During game one, a Marshall parent was made to remove a sign for MU, three members of the Herd were ejected, including the third-base coach Tim Donnelly, and a Tulane player reportedly came to the Marshall dugout with a profane taunt about, "this is our f*****g house" after the Green Wave pulled out a 6-5 win.

Saturday was somewhat quiet compared to Friday night. The Thundering Herd would pickup its first win all-time over Tulane, 7-4, behind super pitching by Steve Blevins, who struck out a career-best 12 in the win. On Sunday's finale, Waggoner informed the umpire crew the Herd had a 6:30 p.m. flight out of the New Orleans airport and the umpires ruled no inning would start after 4:30 p.m., per C-USA rules. The Herd tied the game at 5-5, with two runs coming with two outs, in the top of the ninth. Tulane left runners on base in the ninth and tenth innings, and the game would be declared a tie, which further enraged the Tulane coach. Jones apparently lobbied the league to finish the game, when Marshall came to New Orleans on Sunday following the series last weekend at Tulane, to no avail.


Victor Gomez is second on the Herd in batting with a .370 average for the freshman DH and catcher. Gomez was named to the All-Conference USA second team as a DH/UTL player on Tuesday, as well as the all freshman squad for C-USA. photo from HerdZone.com

Now the two teams met in a game both seemed to be hoping to play on Wednesday night. The winner will meet the winner of the UCF - Southern Miss game. Marshall swept the Knights in Charleston and took one of three from the No. 28-ranked Golden Eagles. The other bracket includes No. 1 Rice, No. 4 Houston and No. 5 East Carolina, who all swept the Herd, as well as UAB as the eight seed, who the Herd was 2-1 against.

Marshall is the No. 6 seed in the tournament, the highest rank for MU baseball since Marshall was the No. 3 seed in the 1994 Southern Conference tournament, but then finished last in the SC in 1995, 1996 and 1997. Marshall never qualified for the Mid-American Conference tournament (1998-2005) during MU's second turn through the MAC and was the No. 8 seed in the 2006 C-USA tournament. Marshall's last game for a league title was 1989, when the Herd finished second to Western Carolina in a rain-shortened tournament at Appalachian State in former MU head coach Jack Cook's last game. Cook won SC titles in 1981 and 1978, and advanced to the NCAA Regionals in 1978 and 1973.


Junior Nate Lape leads the Herd with a .385 average, 14 home runs, 16 doubles and 52 RBI. Lape became Marshall's first first team All-C-USA player on Tuesday. He, Adam Yeager and Victor Gomez will head to the Cape Cod League this summer, the nation's premier wooden bat collegiate summer program. photo from HerdZone.com.

Blevins needs just one win to tie the MU single-season win mark, set in 1998 by J.R. Watts who won nine for the Herd that year. Freshman reliever Arik Sikula needs just one save to set a new Marshall record for a single season with eight. He tied the current record of seven, set last season by Nick Wolle and both of those record setting seasons came under Waggoner and his pitching coach, Tim Adkins. "We will throw everyone we need to win game one," said Waggoner. "We'll see their Shooter Hunt, who is outstanding, but we think Blevins is right there with him."


Senior catcher Tommy Johnson is one of the top hitters on the Herd this season, and has a career average of .328 for four years at Marshall. photo courtesy of HerdZone.com.

Hitting-wise, Marshall has a team batting average of .300 despite playing in the nation's fifth-toughest league. Leading the way is Nate Lape, who hit .385 and led the Herd with 16 doubles, 14 home runs and 52 runs batted in. Freshman designated hitter Victor Gomez finished his inaugural season with a .370 average and had nine doubles, 11 home runs and 43 RBI. Senior catcher Tommy Johnson was third on this year's MU team with a .327 average, which is almost exactly his career-batting average of .328 headed into the C-USA tourney. In his four seasons, Johnson has posted 30 doubles, one triple, 13 home runs and 98 RBI in his time with the Herd and had career-bests with eight homers, a triple and 43 runs batted in. Adam Yeager, who like Blevins transferred back to Marshall from the University of Cincinnati, hit .309 over the season but a team-leading .370 against Conference USA. He needs two more stolen bases to tie the MU team record of 40 in a season, set by Chris Monaco in 2004.

Pitching has also been a strength of this year's Herd team, and much of the credit goes to Adkins. The former Wayne High School star, who played for MU volunteer assistant George Brumfield as a Pioneer, spent 13 seasons in the minors before joined Waggoner in 2007. Blevins is the leader with an 8-3 mark, and is also tops with 83.0 innings pitched and 65 strikeouts. Dan Straily is the tops in earned run average among the weekend starters at 4.46 to Blevins 4.55, and the transfer from Western Oregon has posted a 4-3 mark with 66.2 IP and 50 strikeouts. Andrew Blain is the third weekend starter and is 2-5 with 39 strikeouts in 61.0 innings pitched.

The bullpen is largely young but effective. Sikula, who led South Charleston to a W.Va. state AAA title in 2005, then Hurricane to a No. 1 ranking as a senior, has a 3.93 ERA, appearing in 24 games. He is 1-3 with seven saves and has 30 strikeouts in 34.1 innings of work. Sophomore Ryan Kiel is 2-1/5.40 ERA, freshman Ian Kadish is 1-3/5.35 ERA with 38.2 innings worked and freshman Shane Farrell is 1-1/4.5 ERA, and walked only seven in 22 innings. Senior Andrew Hancock is 3-2 on the season in 24 games while fellow senior Adam Dobies is 1-2 with a 5.48 ERA. Marshall's team ERA is 6.02, just slightly higher than its opponents 5.82 on the year, and is the lowest since 2004 (5.23) for Marshall pitching and is second-lowest since the 1994 (14 seasons).


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