Herd baseball overcomes early road trip, readies for home opener against Niagara


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Marshall baseball didn’t start the season with the most ideal playing schedule. The Thundering Herd opened with 10 consecutive road games to begin the season, playing a trio of three-game series and a single midweek game.

The Herd overcame those early season schedule issues, going 7-3 on the long road trip with series wins at Florida A&M, Elon and Appalachian State. Marshall rides a three-game win streak into Friday’s 2 p.m. home opener against Niagara after defeating Western Carolina in a midweek game Tuesday. The matchup with the Purple Eagles is a four-game series, with a doubleheader Saturday and single games Friday and Sunday.

“This is such an exciting team to watch,” head coach Jeff Waggoner said following Marshall’s 12-8 win over WCU Tuesday evening. “They get timely hits at the right time, and the pitching has kept us in games.”

Prior to the season, Waggoner said that pitching was a strength for the Herd. Juniors Wade Martin and Joshua Shapiro and senior Brad O’Connor all returned as starters, and senior Will Ray transitioned into a starting pitching role prior to the start of the season after playing primarily as an infielder in 2017.

However, the Herd has bucked Waggoner’s thoughts during this opening 10-game stretch, ranking second in Conference USA in batting average while using its speed to create havoc on the basepaths, going 18-for-25 on stolen base attempts. Marshall has seven players with a batting average over .300 (minimum 10 plate appearances) and 11 players with batting averages over .250, regardless of the number of plate appearances. In addition, the Herd has benefitted from key contributions from players who had struggled
in past years.

Junior catcher Rey Pastrana and redshirt senior utilityman Tucker Linder, two players that had either been poor at the plate or role players, are among the team’s leading hitters at .364 and .378, respectively. Pastrana leads the team with 14 runs batted in (RBI) and is tied for the team lead with two home runs. Linder has 14 hits through the first 10 games, including a pair of doubles, to go along with a home
run and eight RBI.

When the Herd has late leads, the bullpen has shut down the opposition.  Senior Gordon Cardenas, a transfer from Auburn, has a 0.87 earned run average (ERA) in more than 10 innings out of the bullpen and has been Waggoner’s go-to choice in late-inning situations.

“He’s a bulldog. He has that mentality to finish off the other team,” Waggoner said of Cardenas, who leads the Herd with three wins. Cardenas has allowed one run while walking four and
striking out 11.

Ray leads the Herd starting pitchers in most statistical categories. Starting primarily on Sundays after being used exclusively as an infielder and relief pitcher in 2017, Ray has posted a stout 1.08 ERA through his first three starts, pitching 16 2/3 innings, while giving up two earned runs, walking six and striking out 11.

Marshall is familiar with this weekend’s opposition, as the Herd and Purple Eagles faced off in a three-game series in Huntington in 2017. Marshall took two of the three games in the series, taking the final two games after dropping the opener.

Niagara has struggled out of the gate, going 1-5 in its first six games. The Purple Eagles have lost five straight and have not won a game since their opening game of the season against Longwood. Pitching has hurt Niagara this season, as every starter has an earned run average over five, while five relievers have ERAs over 14.

The Purple Eagles have not received much help at the plate, either. Niagara hitters have struck out on average nearly 10 times per game (57 in six games), while eight batters for the Purple Eagles have batting averages below .250.

Martin figures to get the ball for the Herd in the series opener Friday, with O’Connor likely pitching in one of the two Saturday games and Ray staying in his role as the Sunday starter.  Sophomore Zac McNeel, who started in the midweek game against WCU, or Shapiro, who started throughout his first two seasons, will likely start the second Saturday game.

Kieran Intemann can be contacted at [email protected]