Herd throws blanks at WVU
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- In the first game between the Marshall and West Virginia baseball teams on Mountain State soil since 1998, Thundering Herd starting pitcher Aaron Blair made a statement.
Blair fanned 11 Mountaineers and allowed no hits in six innings as Marshall beat WVU 8-0 Tuesday at Appalachian Power Park.
It was the first meeting between West Virginia's two largest colleges since a 2008 game at a tournament hosted by Coastal Carolina and the first game between the two in West Virginia since the Mountaineers beat the Herd 12-11 at Watt Powell Park 15 years ago.
"It means everything to our program," Blair said. "We haven't played them in 15 years in West Virginia and we came out here and shut them out with great pitching, great hitting and great defense. It was perfect."
Blair's stellar outing almost came unraveled before it could start in the top of the first inning.
Two walks and a hit batter loaded the bases with no outs for WVU cleanup hitter Matt Frazer. Blair found his rhythm after admittedly having some nerves on the mound to start the game and got Frazer, a former Nitro High standout, to strike out swinging.
Strikeouts by WVU's Ryan Tuntland and Ryan McBroom followed to get Blair and Marshall (9-10) out of the early jam.
"The first inning it was kind of shaky but then I settled into a groove and started throwing fastballs for strikes," Blair said. "The rhythm was the big thing. I went out there and was kind of shaky but I settled down with three strikeouts to end the inning."
Marshall jumped on West Virginia starter Zach Bargeron in its half of the first. The Herd's first two batters, Isaac Ballou and Andrew Dundon, each singled before Nathan Gomez hit what appeared to be a double-play ball, but WVU shortstop Taylor Muden's throw to first went sailing into the stands and allowed Ballou to score and give Marshall a 1-0 lead.
"As soon as Aaron got out of that jam the momentum went to our side and we capitalized in the first inning and that set the tone for the rest of the game," Marshall coach Jeff Waggoner said.
The second inning began just as the first did for the Herd, with back-to-back singles, this time by Chase Vogelback and Aaron Bossi. A Matt Kirkwood bunt moved the runners to second and third before Sergio Leon's long fly ball brought Vogelback around to score.
The throw from the outfield came in to WVU pitcher Ryan Hostrander (who took over for Bargeron earlier in the second), who tried to get Bossi at third. His throw skipped past the base and allowed Bossi to score.
Blair went on to fan two in the second, one in the third, two in the fourth, one in the fifth and two more in the sixth before being pulled for reliever Josh King to start the seventh inning.
"We just go on how we're feeling," Blair said. "I got to 100 pitches and [Waggoner] said that was it, so that was it."
Waggoner said the decision to pull Blair from the game with no hits on the scoreboard was a difficult one.
"It's not easy," he said. "He's just a competitor and he wants to be in for every inning and every pitch. That's what makes him so great."
West Virginia coach Randy Mazey said once Blair settled down his team was in for a long evening.
"He was rusty early because they held him out this weekend to pitch against us," Mazey said. "Anytime a pitcher has a long layoff they're gong to be rusty but when he caught his rhythm he was pretty good."
King picked up where Blair left off, striking out six Mountaineers in his three innings of work. WVU got its first hit in the eighth when Bobby Boyd beat the throw to first after a ground ball up the middle caught King on the foot. A Billy Fleming double to start the ninth was the only other hit West Virginia managed.
"We try not to get caught up in results," Mazey said. "We try to teach the kids about the process and let the coaches worry about the results - which we always do."
The game, seen by 1,664 mostly green-clad fans, was the first of three between Marshall and West Virginia this season. The teams will play again on April 2 in Morgantown and then on May 14 at Epling Stadium in Beckley.
"We got to understand that that's one out of three games, but what an opportunity for both clubs," Waggoner said. "It's great for the state of West Virginia and it was great to see such a good turnout from Marshall fans."
Marshall will have little opportunity to rest as the Herd travels to Richmond, Ky., today to play Eastern Kentucky.
West Virginia (8-12) prepares to host its first Big 12 series in Charleston this weekend with Texas Tech visiting Appalachian Power Park for a three-game set starting Friday.
Reach Tom Bragg at email@example.com.