College baseball: Blair, Marshall shut out WVU
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The Marshall baseball team found itself in a position against West Virginia it hasn't experienced more than two decades - winner.
Behind a torrid offensive start and a stellar performance from pitchers Aaron Blair and Josh King, the Thundering Herd beat the Mountaineers, 8-0, to win its first game versus WVU since Howard McCann coached the Herd to a 6-3 win in 1991. It was the first time Marshall pitched a shutout against WVU since winning 5-0 in Morgantown in 1981.
"It means everything to our program," Blair said. "We haven't played them in 15 years in West Virginia. We came out here and we shut them out with great pitching, great hitting and great defense. It was perfect."
The Mountaineers and Herd have seen very little of each other in the past decade and a half.
Their last game was a 5-3 West Virginia win on March 1, 2008, in Conway, S.C. Their last game before that was a 12-11 WVU win in Charleston on April 7, 1998.
In the top of the first inning, it looked like the Herd (9-10) would have another tough day against WVU (8-12). Blair -who entered the game with 21 strikeouts in four appearances, but hadn't pitched since March 10 - loaded the bases before recording his first out. He walked Mountaineers centerfielder Bobby Boyd and right fielder Brady Wilson, and then hit left fielder Jacob Rice.
"The first inning, I had some nerves going," Blair said. "It's a big game. I went out there and was overthrowing, then I settled down."
With his fastball, curveball and change-up working, Blair became nearly untouchable.
The sophomore right-hander fanned three straight to get himself out of trouble and avoided trouble for the rest of his appearance. Blair (3-1) struck out 11 in six no-hit innings, walking four and hitting two batters.
"Any good pitcher, you better get them early," Marshall Coach Jeff Waggoner said. "He got into a rhythm. As soon as Aaron gets out of that jam, the momentum went to our side."
WVU finally got its first hit of the game in the top of the eighth on a Boyd single to second off of Marshall reliever Josh King. King had three solid innings himself, allowing just two hits and walking one while striking out six. It was Marshall's third shutout win and West Virginia's second shutout loss of the season.
Meanwhile, the Mountaineers - losers of three straight - trotted out pitcher after pitcher in hopes of cooling Marshall's bats in the chilly March weather.
The first three, starter Zach Bargeron and relievers Ryan Hostrander and Ryan Tezak, had no luck.
Marshall opened the scoring on a Taylor Munden throwing error. WVU's shortstop sailed a throw to first, allowing Herd leadoff hitter Isaac Ballou to score from third.
Two more scored when a Sergio Leon sacrifice fly scored Chase Vogelbach and Aaron Bossi came home on a Ryan McBroom throwing error to give Marshall a 3-0 lead.
That became a 6-0 lead in the third after Eric Escobedo doubled to left to score Nathan Gomez, then a Vogelbach single up the middle brought in Escobedo and Gray Stafford. Marshall added two more runs in the fifth, and WVU Coach Randy Mazey said it was Blair's first-inning turnaround that sparked the Herd's bats.
"I don't think it drained us near as much as it gave them momentum," Mazey said. "It's pretty hard to give a team momentum before they hit the first time, but we found a way to do that. They came flying off the field in the first inning with a ton of energy going into the bottom of the first."
Bargeron, Hostrander and Tezak combined to allow eight runs, six earned, on eight hits with four walks and two strikeouts. WVU used six pitchers in all. Vogelbach led Marshall offensively, going 2 for 3 with two RBI. Eight Herd batters recorded at least one hit.
The Mountaineers and Herd face off twice more this season. The two teams play April 2 at Hawley Field in Morgantown, then clash May 14 at Epling Field in Beckley. WVU returns to action at Appalachian Power Park on Friday for a weekend series against Texas Tech. Marshall travels to Radford this weekend.
Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/marshall. Follow him on Twitter @derekredd.