Adam Yeager, who led Conference USA in stolen bases and led Marshall by hitting .370 against league opponents, was somehow left off the All-Conference USA teams on Tuesday. Wednesday night in the 10-5 win by the Herd, the junior from Huntington made everyone sit up and take notice. Yeager stole a Marshall and C-USA Tournament record five bases, giving him a MU record 43 for a single-season, and just missed a sixth in an attempt to steal home in a bang-bang play in a seventh inning when he drove in two runs with a single, stole second, stole third and nearly stole home.
"We just wanted to come out early and make (Shooter) Hunt work tonight, make him throw strikes," said Yeager, who played scholastically at Huntington High School, "and I think we did that. We were just trying to scrap against him. He's the best pitcher in the conference...I thought we scrapped pretty well."
Yeager set the tone when he walked in the first, moved to second on a fielder's choice, stole third and then scrambled home when the Tulane (36-19-1) infield mis-played the ball on the steal. He scored four runs, had two hits, two walks and two runs batted in to lead the Herd to the first win in a conference tournament since 1995's Southern Conference tourney in Charleston, S.C. under former Head Coach Howard McCann. Marshall's last winning season was under McCann, father of Brian McCann of the Atlanta Braves, in 1994 when MU finished 20-19.
Yeager had lots of help from his friends, as Nate Lape, Brandon Casamassima and Jeff Rowley all homered and Tommy Johnson added a double. Meanwhile, Steve Blevins, a second team All-C-USA pick, out-pitched the C-USA Pitcher of the Year Scooter Hunt in a performance like Blevins' 7-4 win over the Green Wave in April. Blevins picked up his ninth win against three losses, tying the Marshall single-season mark for wins in a season. J.R. Watts won nine in 1998 for the 18-35 Herd. Hunt, who gave up six runs, five earned, in six innings of work (nine strikeouts, five walks and allowing two homers), picked up just his third loss of the year against nine wins - the same record as Blevins.
"Great job by (Steve) Blevins," said Jeff Waggoner, in his second season as Head Coach of Herd baseball. "We've given him plenty of rest coming into this game, and that's huge when your starter can throw a complete game and you save your bullpen. We actually stretched him more in the first one (at Tulane, in regular season win). Because we'd given him so much rest coming into this series, we knew we could stretch him out a little."
Blevins pitched nine innings, his second consecutive complete game and third of the year. "It's big," said Blevins of the complete game. "It saves our bullpen for tomorrow and the next day. We've ot everybody fresh for (Thursday)." The junior from Louisa, Ky., who like Yeager transferred back to Marshall from the University of Cincinnati to play for Waggoner (and pitch for MU pitching coach Tim Adkins, in Blevins' case) and the Herd, allowed five runs, only three earned, on eight hits and had eight strikeouts, four walks but allowed only one extra-base hit to improve to 9-3 this season.
Yeager was 2-for-3 on the night. Lape, who hit .385 for the Herd and was first team all-league, was 2-for-4 with three runs batted in, running his home run total to 15 and RBI total to 55 on the season. Casamassima, who homered in his only official appearance, was replaced by Blake Sanders when the Herd junior third baseman suffered a knee injury rounding second base midway through the game. Josh Valle, Rowley and Ben Jurevicious were all 1-for-4 with each getting a RBI. Lape, Rowley, Casamassima, Kenny Soccoro, Jurevicious and Johnson all scored runs besides the four by Yeager.
"Our guys played well," said Waggoner. "We beat a great team, a well-coached team. It was a great overall win for our program." Tulane coach Rick Jones was impressed by Marshall's effort on the Green Wave home field. "Marshall out-played us in every phase of the game," said Jones, who has won 636 games at Tulane in 16 seasons at the helm and 912 games in 23 seasons as a head coach.
"They out-pitched us, they out-hit us, they out-defensed us and they did a good job running the bases. They came out and were ready to play, and I thought we were, too." First baseman Sam Honeck knows Tulane is now behind the eight ball in the double-elimination tournament. "We have an elimination game (Thursday) and we've just got to come out and play. In order to make a (NCAA) Regional, I think we've got to win, so that's what we've got to do and we're going to do it."
Yeager, Blevins and the rest of the 2008 Herd baseball team helped Marshall improve to 27-28-1 overall, tying the school record for team wins. The 1978 Herd won the SC and came within a game of advancing to the College World Series with two wins in the NCAA Regional before falling twice to Miami-Fla., set that mark under legendary Marshall Head Coach Jack Cook. Head Coach Dave Piepenbrink, who was recruited to MU by Cook, led his 2004 Herd was 27-27, 10-13 in the Mid-American Conference, but MU was never in the MAC Tournament between 1998 and 2004. The Herd made the 2005 C-USA Tournament as the eight seed in the nine-team baseball alignment, losing big to Rice and Tulane, and did not make the tourney in Head Coach Jeff Waggoner's first season in 2007, finishing ninth in the league.
Three of Thursday games were rained out, and Tulane and UCF will meet in an elimination game at 10 a.m. (ET) Friday morning. Marshall and Southern Miss will play on ESPN 930 AM radio in Huntington (and a pod cast available after the game on www.wrvc.am on the web). The Herd is set to face the No. 2 seed in the tournament in Southern Miss, who the Herd was 1-2 against in the regular season. That game was scheduled for a first-pitch at 8:30 p.m. start Thursday, but is now a 4:00 p.m. Friday game.
Win or lose against the Golden Eagles, Marshall will then play sometime on Saturday. The only game played during the morning or afternoon at Tulane was East Carolina rallying from a 3-0 hole to eliminate the Rice Owls, 4-3. The Owls had won back-to-back titles, but were gone in two losses in 2008, just Rice's second and third ever C-USA Tournament losses. Rice won the regular season crown in the league, and will no doubt still host an NCAA Regional. The Owls have a streak of 13 consecutive league titles, going back through Rice's membership in the Western Athletic Conference to its final season in the former Southwest Conference with Texas, TCU, Texas Tech, Texas A&M, Baylor, SMU, Houston and Arkansas.
Dan Straily (4-3) is scheduled to start for the Herd, while the Golden Eagles managed to save their ace, Barry Bowden (7-3, 1.63 ERA) in picking up an opening 8-5 win over UCF earlier Wednesday. MU won the opening game in Charleston, W.Va., against USM 16-10, lost game two 12-8 then were shutout the only time this season in a 5-0 Sunday loss. In that third game, Bowden pitched four innings of two hit, no run baseball against MU. Straily, a sophomore transfer from Western Oregon University, pitched five innings and allowed the Eagles five hits and three runs, two earned.
The other upset of the first day was No. 8 UAB knocking off the No. 1 seed Rice, 8-2, with 14 hits and three errors by the Owls. It marked Rice's second loss in C-USA Tournament action and only the second time since C-USA was founded in 1995 that No. 8 had beaten No. 1 in the first round. In the early game Wednesday, No. 4 Houston had to go ten innings to hold off No. 5 East Carolina, 5-4. Houston will face surprising UAB. Tulane and UCF (31-26 this season) were still waiting to meet in the elimination game for the lower bracket, now on Friday morning.