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Herd outslugs No. 19 Cougars 19-13

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Marshall may have resurrected its baseball season Friday afternoon at Appalachian Power Park.

Sergio Leon clouted a three-run homer and a two-run double as the Thundering Herd won in most improbable fashion, rallying from an early nine-run deficit to beat both the clock and nationally ranked Houston 19-13 in a four-hour, 18-minute marathon to open a three-game Conference USA weekend series.

Leon drove in six runs in all, while Herd teammates Nathan Gomez, Eric Escobedo and Johnathan Beary had three RBIs apiece as Marshall (12-17, 2-2) broke a three-game losing streak.

After falling behind 13-4 in the top of the fourth inning, the Herd blanked the country's No. 19 team the rest of the way and scored the game's final 15 runs, including a seven-spot in the fourth and six more in the fifth.

"I'm just really proud of the team, the way we responded and didn't quit,'' said Marshall coach Jeff Waggoner. "We faced some adversity and the guys were able to respond, keep their heads up and stay in the game. You've got to be proud of that, especially on Friday to begin the series.''

Kolin Stanley picked up the win with 22/3 innings of relief, with Matt Margaritonda following with 31/3 scoreless innings and Josh King closing it out on a pair of strikeouts with the bases loaded.

The Herd came into the game averaging a modest 4.6 runs and 8.7 hits, but blew those numbers out of the water with season-highs in runs and hits (21) against the Cougars (23-8, 5-2), who came into the game leading C-USA and owning a 20-5 all-time series lead against Marshall.

In fact, Marshall had managed just 18 runs in its previous six games this season, five of which were losses.

"We just came in ready to win. We had that fire,'' Leon said. "It's like Coach said. It's one big inning, that's all that really matters. We had that one big inning, and look what happened. We ended up winning the game.''

For a while, it looked like Marshall might not be able to ride that wave of midgame momentum all the way through. In the seventh inning, with the game already more than three hours old, umpires and both coaches had a discussion with West Virginia Power officials about the South Atlantic League game that was set to follow. It was decided that if Marshall-Houston wasn't completed by 7 p.m., it would be suspended and completed today at Power Park. They beat the deadline, however, with a half-hour to spare.

Adding to the degree of difficulty, the Herd staged its comeback against one of the league's hottest pitchers, junior right-hander Daniel Poncedeleon. He was recently honored as the C-USA co-pitcher of the week after throwing a complete-game five-hitter in a 3-1 win over Memphis with eight strikeouts, no walks and no earned runs. It marked his fourth straight victory.

But Poncedeleon, a 38th-round pick by the Cincinnati Reds in the 2012 draft, never made it out of the fourth despite a 13-4 lead built largely on the bat of shortstop Frankie Ratcliff (3 for 4, three-run homer, RBI double). Poncedeleon allowed seven hits, walked two and hit two.

The last pitch Poncedeleon threw turned into a two-run blast by Gomez that made it 13-6 in the bottom of the fourth. Six batters later, with the Herd still up, Leon drove a pitch over the wall with two aboard to shave the lead to 13-11 and change the complexion of the game.

"The feeling was awesome, honestly,'' Leon said. "It gave me some goose bumps.''

The hits just kept on coming for the Herd in the next inning, with Escobedo and Leon each contributing two-run doubles. In the fourth and fifth innings combined, Marshall piled up 13 runs and 11 hits while sending 21 men to the plate.

"I think the bottom line is we were just having quality at-bats,'' Waggoner said, "and the results happened because of our at-bats. I'm excited and proud of the way we kept our heads up and kept grinding and they were able to get themselves back in the game.''

Waggoner also lauded his relief pitching, especially the job done by Margaritonda, a former bullpen ace who had struggled in recent outings. Just when Friday's contest started to resemble an Arena Football game, with MU ahead 17-13 after five innings, Stanley and Margaritonda combined to retire 10 straight batters.

"Our pitchers did a good job at the end of the game,'' Waggoner said, "keeping us right there and giving us a chance to win.

"We had a talk before the game about [Houston's] big innings and that we've got to be able to overcome that, and they did so. They responded well and hopefully that momentum carries into tomorrow.''

Both teams are expected to throw their ace right-handers in today's 2:05 p.m. game, with Aaron Blair (4-1, 2.60 ERA) going for MU against the Cougars' Austin Pruitt (6-1, 2.09). The series wraps up with a 10 a.m. Sunday game.

Reach Rick Ryan at 304-348-5175 or rickryan@wvgazette.com.

 


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