Herd softball wins three at Michelle Smith Pediatric Cancer Invite

Marshall softball quadrupled its win total over the weekend at the Michelle Smith Pediatric Cancer Invite in Clearwater, Florida. The Herd entered the tournament with one win on the season, but went 3-2 over the three-day tournament, including an upset of Missouri and a near-upset of No. 10 Tennessee.

“I am so proud of our squad,” first-year head coach Jen Steele said following the tournament. “Not just because we battled Tennessee, but because after last weekend we reassessed, got to work and made changes. We didn’t press one time this weekend and didn’t worry about last week’s results. We didn’t get nervous about playing great competition.”

The Herd (4-5) opened play Friday with a 5-2 win over the Oakland Golden Grizzlies (5-2). Senior catcher Taylor McCord put the Herd on the scoreboard in the third with her first home run of the season; a three-run shot to left field. Freshmen Rachel Rousseau and Grayson Radcliffe scored on a wild pitch in the fourth inning to account for the other two runs. Junior pitcher Ali Burdette entered the game in the third and gave up two hits in 4 1/3 innings for her second win of the season.

“We found our way on (base), were able to use our speed and had timely hits in big moments,” Steele said. “Burdette was great out of the bullpen and the defense played really well behind her.”

In the Herd’s second game Friday against USF, Burdette pitched 4 2/3 innings in relief, but Marshall’s offense sputtered in a 5-1 loss to the Bulls. USF scored three runs in the second inning and two in the third, using a Lindsey Devitt single and a Cassidy Boyle double to plate four of its five runs. Herd junior pitcher Abigail Tolbert was charged with the loss, giving up all five USF runs (four earned). Marshall’s lone run came via a fourth inning double by sophomore infielder Blakely Burch. Freshman pitcher Georgina Corrick earned the win for USF. She pitched a complete game, striking out seven batters.

“We got behind early and then found ourselves struggling to put together momentum,” Steele said.

Marshall began day two of the tournament with an 8-2 upset over Missouri, which received votes in the preseason polls. The Tigers, who fired longtime head coach Ehren Earleywine two weeks before the season started, did not contain the Herd’s speed on the base paths. Marshall stole four bases in the game, including a double-steal that scored the game’s first run. The Herd plated five runs in the second, as Missouri committed three errors, resulting in four Marshall runs. Sophomore pitcher Kailee Williamson and Burdette combined to allow seven Mizzou hits. Williamson was credited with her first win of the season.

“We had all cylinders firing,” Steele said. “Our hitters had great at-bats and we executed in big moments. It was a full team attack and it showed, by how many runs we scored. Williamson had a great start and gave us the chance to win. She had her best stuff and competed in the circle.”

Marshall continued its attack on the basepaths in Saturday’s second game against UMass-Lowell. The Herd stole 11 bases, led by Burch who had three. Elicia D’Orazio, Samantha Koehn and Eloise Tribolet had two steals apiece, as Marshall scored a run in each of the first four innings. Williamson gave up two hits and one run in five innings to pick up her second win in as many games.

“We challenged the team in the pregame talk to make sure we came out attacking in game two and not settle with the win from earlier,” Steele said.

In its last game of the tournament Sunday morning against No. 10 Tennessee, the Herd fell into a 3-0 hole after the first inning. The starting pitcher, Tolbert, failed to record an out, giving up a pair of walks and a single before she was relieved by Burdette, who gave up a two-run double to Scarlet McSwain. The Herd rebounded in the second inning with four runs off of three Lady Vol errors to take a 4-3 lead. Burdette gave up three hits in her first six innings of relief, but failed to record an out in the seventh inning. A C.J. McClain double, followed by an Aubrey Leach single, placed Tennessee runners on second and third with no outs. After Jenna Holcomb singled to load the bases, Lady Vols’ reigning SEC Player of the Year and First-Team All-American Meghan Gregg, hit a walk-off single to right field, scoring McClain and Leach to win the game for Tennessee.

“You have to tip your cap to Tennessee,” Steele said following the loss. “They made things happen in the last inning and then their All-American go the game-winning hit.”

Marshall continues its non-conference schedule Friday at the Spartan/Paladin Invitational in South Carolina. The Herd is the only non-South Carolina school competing in the tournament. Marshall will play Furman twice and USC Upstate, Presbyterian and Winthrop once each.

Kieran Intemann can be contacted at [email protected]