Marshall had a number of heroes in picking up a second-consecutive win over Tulane, and the third in four games with the Green Wave after starting 0-7 over the first three years against TU in Conference USA play (and the one non-win was a 5-5 regular season, 10-inning tie on a Sunday get-away game at Tulane). Nate Lape, who is now hitting .390 on the season, leads the way for MU (28-29-1). The first team All C-USA center fielder was 3-for-4 on the day in leading Marshall to its 28th win of the year, a new record for wins at MU for the baseball program which started in 1896. Lape hit his 16th home run of the season, picked up three runs batted in to run his total to 58 for the year, scored two runs and also stole three bases to eliminate Tulane (37-10-1), who still will expect to get an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.
The two wins in a conference tournament are the first since Marshall went 2-2 in the 1990 Southern Conference Tournament. Marshall was the SC runner-up in 1989 in Jack Cook's last season at the helm, and in 1985. MU's last conference title came in 1981 in the SC, behind former Kansas City Royal Jeff Montgomery, and they also won the SC in 1978, when Marshall nearly advanced to the College World Series by winning two games in the NCAA Regional before falling twice to the Hurricanes at Miami, Florida. Marshall also advanced to the NCAA Regionals in 1973. The Herd won the Buckeye Conference (member 1933-39) three times in a row, 1933-34-35, under Roy "Legs" Hawley, and won the West Virginia Athletic Conference in 1927-1928-1929-1930 with former St. Louis Cardinal Johnny "Blood" Stuart at the helm, in today's Division II WVIAC which Marshall belonged as a founding member starting in 1925-1933. Three more wins would not only give MU a C-USA title, it would also give the Herd its first winning season since 1994 (the 2004 team finished 27-27, but did not qualify for the Mid-American Conference tournament, true of all eight years MU was back in the MAC).
Nate Lape, Marshall's All-Conference USA center fielder, hit a home run, scored two and drove in three to lead the Herd to a 8-7 win over Tulane on Saturday. Marshall also knocked off the Green Wave on day one of the tournament and will meet Southern Miss in another elimination game this evening in New Orleans in the C-USA Tournament. photo courtesy of HerdZone.com.
Junior shortstop Adam Yeager was 2-for-4 against TU, while freshman Victor Gomez was 2-for-5 with a RBI and a run scored. Lape, Yeager and Gomez have all been invited to play this summer in the prestigious Cape Cod League, America's best collegiate wooden bat league. Lape, Yeager, pitcher Steve Blevins, catcher Tommy Johnson and Rowley may all be drafted this summer in the Major League Baseball Draft in June.
Marshall moved Josh Valle to second base, where he made the C-USA All-Freshman team in 2007, so Gomez, who made the All-Frosh and second team All-C-USA teams in 2008, could play first. Kurt Lipton, who missed over a month of the season with an injury at Ohio early last month, was at DH to get more offense in the line-up, as normal second baseman Kenny Socorro is batting at .213 as a freshman. As it turned out, the team needed nearly every hit (13) and run they got in the one-run win. Rowley, a senior left fielder, was 2-for-3 and scored two runs, but none bigger than sliding under a tag by by freshman Rob Segedin after the TU reliever threw a wild pitch past MU right fielder Ben Jurevicius at bat. The pitch allowed Rowley to come home with two-outs in the bottom of the ninth (MU was designated the home team because it was the second meeting with Tulane, set up by league rules. MU will be the home team tonight, as well, against Southern Miss in another elimination game for the Herd).
Arik Sikula, the freshman reliever from Hurricane, W.Va., pitched 2.1 innings to pick up the win and improved to 2-3, with a Marshall record-tying seven saves this season. He allowed four hits and two runs, but the Herd picked up a run in the eighth and the ninth to top the Green Wave. Sikula entered with two outs in the seventh after Tulane pulled within one at 6-5. Sikula allowed two runs with two outs in the eighth after TU led off with three consecutive bunt hits, with some confusion between Valle and Gomez over covering first base, to take a 7-6 lead.
MU rallied in the bottom of the eighth to tie the game 7-7 starting with a two-out hit from Valle. Senior Matt Helm came into run for Valle, and promptly stole second. Lape picked up his third RBI of the day with a single up the middle to tie the game 7-7 going to the ninth. Tulane got a lead off single from Segedin, who was the starting third baseman for the Wave, but Sikula got Dyer to strikeout and Tulane's Sam Honeck hit into a Yeager-to-Gomez double play.
Rowley, who homered against Tulane on Wednesday, led off the bottom of the ninth with a single to right. Johnson, a fellow senior at catcher for MU, flew out to left for the first out on a tough 0-for-5 day for the catcher. Lipton, who was 2-for-5 in his first full game at DH, singled to center field and Rowley, who broke for second on the 1-2 pitch, made it all the way to third. Brandon Casamassima, who was 1-for-4 with his third home run of the tournament, struck out for the second out of the ninth.
Segedin, who moved from third to pitcher with two-outs in the eighth and allowed the run to score for the tie, then uncorked a wild pitch. Rowley broke for the plate as the TU catcher Dyer scrambled for the ball, and Rowley dove under the tag by Segedin for the win that set off a wild celebration at home plate for the Herd. Hard feelings from the regular season meetings between Marshall and Tulane perhaps had as much to do with the celebration as the win that kept Marshall's tournament hopes alive.
It appeared Tulane was headed for a comeback win on center fielder Chris Scelfo's two RBI base hit in the eighth to take a 7-6 lead. Scelfo, the nephew of former MU assistant coach (1990-95) and former Tulane Head Football Coach Chris Scelfo, had a big day with five RBI on 2-for-5 at the plate. He had a three-run home run as Tulane rallied from being down 2-0 as part of a four-run fifth for the Green Wave. Marshall answered that rally with a five-run bottom of the fifth, including a double by Yeager, a two-run home run by Lape and a two-run single off the bat of Lipton that scored Rowley and Gomez.
MU scored an unearned run in the first off Tulane starter Jonathan Garrett, who allowed seven hits, five runs (four earned) and two homers in 4.1 innings of work. Lape had a two-out single, stole second and took third on the only error by either team in the game by Dyer on his throw to second. Gomez singled Lape in for a 1-0 lead. In the second, Casamassima hit his third home run of the tournament for a 2-0 Herd lead for starter Andrew Blain of Marshall. Blain, formerly the Herd's No. 1 starter, gave the Herd a great effort in the game. He had the best effort Blain has had in some time, pitching five innings and allowing four runs on four hits, striking out four and walking three. He left after five down 2-4, but the Herd picked him up with four in the bottom of the fifth.
Marshall got one-plus inning from freshman Ian Kadish, who had a scoreless sixth and gave up a hit to start the seventh. Sophomore Ryan Kiel came in to strikeout Scelfo, but Andrew Hancock gave up a single to second baseman Seth Henry who drove in Aja Barto. Hancock got Segedin to ground out to third and Sikula came in to strike out Dyer, one of four stikeouts for the freshman in two and one-third innings of work for the win.
Houston was to play what is an elimination game for the Cougars with surprising UAB following Marshall's win. The Blazers, the No. 8 seed in the tournament, have beating No. 1 Rice and No. 4 Houston to advance. UH opened the tournament with a 10-inning, 5-4 win over No. 5 seed East Carolina. Houston then beat ECU last night to advance to today's game with the Blazers. If UAB wins, they will advance to Sunday's 2 p.m. (all times EDT; New Orleans is on central time). If Houston wins today, the Cougars and Blazers will meet in an elimination game late this evening for the upper bracket chance to advance to the championship game Sunday.
Marshall will have its second elimination game of the day tonight around 7 p.m., taking on Southern Miss (who beat MU 5-3 on Friday when Gomez drove a bases-loaded drive to the wall, just short of a walk-off grand slam). If Marshall wins, the two teams will meet very early on Sunday in a game to determine who will play the Houston-UAB survivor in the title game, which will air on CBS College Sports Network (formerly CSTV, channel 174 on Huntington's Comcast cable). All Marshall games can be heard on MU flagship AM station, ESPN 930-AM, WRVC, with the "Voice of the Herd," Steve Cotton, and MU Assistant Sports Information Director Brandon Parro live from Turchin Stadium in New Orleans. Tonight's game will start 45 minutes after the end of the UH-UAB game, and Sunday's time will be set following that, if MU knocks off USM in this evening's game. Stay tuned to ESPN 930-AM for MU's run through the Conference USA Tournament.