Herd softball opens season this weekend

Spring does not officially begin until mid-March, but for the Marshall University softball team, spring begins this weekend. The Herd opens their season Friday, Feb. 10 at the Unconquered Invitational hosted by Florida State University in Tallahassee, Florida.

The Unconquered Invitational begins as a four team round-robin style tournament, and then shifts into a bracket style tournament. In total, the Herd will play five games this weekend. The Herd opens their season Friday morning at 11 a.m. against Lipscomb. The team will return to action later on Friday at 6:30 p.m. to take on Furman.

On Saturday, the Herd faces off with the host Florida State, a top-five nationally ranked team in both national collegiate softball polls, and a team that reached the NCAA Women’s College World Series last season. First pitch is set for the matchup with the Seminoles is set for 1:30 p.m. Later on Saturday, the invitational switches to a bracket style tournament, as the one seed squares off against the fourth ranked team, and seeds two and three go against each other later that night.

The consolation and championship games for the Unconquered Invitational are set for 10 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. on Sunday respectively.

“It’s an exciting time,” Marshall head softball coach Shonda Stanton said. “Everyone is always excited for opening day, it’s a big deal. Furman is picked to win their conference, Lipscomb has traditionally had some solid teams, and then obviously Florida State is ranked in the top-five in both polls. It will be a great field of play, so it’s going to be exciting.”

The 2017 team will be led by three core returning seniors in Jordan Dixon, Shaelynn Braxton, and Morgan Zerkle. Pitcher Jordan Dixon is already Marshall’s all-time leader in strikeouts. She registered 268 K’s in her junior season. Stanton was excited that Dixon is “approaching 1,000 strikeouts and 100 career wins.”

Infielder Shaelynn Braxton started all 50 games for Marshall in 2016, as she hit .336 on the year with 56 RBI and five home runs. She was the first player since Rachel Folden in 2005 and 2006 for the Herd to have 50+ RBI in back to back seasons.

Utility player Morgan Zerkle has garnered much attention in the offseason. The Milton, W.Va. native in January was named to the 20 player USA women’s national softball team. Later in January she was named the Conference USA Preseason Player of the Year by the league office. Then in early February she was selected to the Top-50 Watch List for the USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year for the second consecutive season.

In a shortened season last year due to injury, in only 34 games Zerkle still hit .482 with 54 hits, seven extra base hits including two home runs, and scored 28 runs. She stole 28 bases as well for Marshall.

“I would say this is one of the strongest senior classes we’ve had in a long time as far as pure talent,” Stanton said. “Every one of them are record breakers in their own right. From a production standpoint, it is a legitimate class. And from there, they are competitors, and that enhances things as well.”

After the Unconquered Invitational, the Herd will continue their 2017 season the following weekend, Feb. 17-18, again in Florida for the Orange Blossom Invitational. The competition in Orlando, Fla. includes Delaware, Bethune Cookman, LIU Brooklyn, and Providence. The Herd will play their first home series at Dot Hicks Softball Field in Huntington beginning on Saturday March 11 when Conference USA action begins against UTSA.

Although it is still winter in Huntington, spring begins this weekend for the Marshall softball team. With good weather forecasted for Florida, the team does not mind their Florida schedule.

“I’m really excited for the first game,” junior outfielder Jordan Colliflower said. “It’s going to be a great first weekend down in Florida, which is never a bad place to begin your season.”

Patrick O’Leary can be contacted at [email protected]