The Marshall softball team came tantalizingly close, but not close enough, in years past in its quest for an NCAA Tournament berth. Twice, in 2006 and 2012, the Thundering Herd reached the Conference USA championship game, only to fall there and miss out on the automatic NCAA bid that comes with a tournament crown.
But the Herd made history Saturday, as Marshall's 3-1 win over Houston gave it the C-USA Tournament title and the team's inaugural trip to the NCAA Tournament.
Marshall will open play in the Lexington Regional against Kentucky (38-18) on Friday at 7:30 p.m. Notre Dame and Virginia Tech will also compete in the fourteam regional. The Herd (35-20) was led by senior pitcher Andi Williamson, named the tournament MVP after not allowing a single earned run and striking out 12 over 21 innings in Tulsa. The pitched all seven innings against the Cougars, allowing four hits and one unearned run, while striking out four and walking two.
"I am still so speechless," said Williamson, a Harts native and Chapmanville graduate who transferred from Tennessee after her freshman year. "I still cannot believe that it happened. We are going to the NCAA tournament for the first time in school history. That has been our main goal since the beginning. We said that we would not be satisfied with second place, and that showed with the determination that we played with all game."
The Herd opened the scoring with two runs in the second. With pinch runner Kristina Braxton on first, freshman Katalin Lucas doubled to right and Houston second baseman Kayla Holland threw the ball into the Marshall dugout, allowing Braxton and Lucas to score.
Houston's Haley Outon singled in a run in the third to cut Marshall's lead to 2-1, but the Herd added an insurance run in the fourth, when Alexandra Bayne cranked an RBI double down the right field line.
"This is for all of the girls who have ever worn the green and white," Marshall Coach Shonda Stanton said. "This is our 20th anniversary of Marshall softball. We have so many special people, and I am so proud of the way our studentathletes represented today."
Lucas, Ashley Gue, Bri Anna Hope and Jazimine Valle all joined Williamson on the CUSA all-tournament team.