Blair pitch project gets it done for Herd
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- In a 19-13 win on Friday, Marshall proved it could slug it out with a nationally ranked team and one of Conference USA's best.
On Saturday, the Thundering Herd and ace pitcher Aaron Blair proved the squad can also throw it with the best of them.
In a complete reversal of style, the Herd held No. 19 Houston off the scoreboard completely, limited the Cougars to just two hits and used a three-run eighth inning to lock down a 4-0 win at Appalachian Power Park in the second game of the three-game C-USA weekend set.
The game was played in a brisk two hours and 20 minutes, compared to 4:18 in Friday's game.
No matter the style, Marshall coach Jeff Waggoner has seen his team gut out its first Conference USA series win since 2011.
"It's funny how it usually works that way," Waggoner said of the contrasting types of games in back-to-back days. "We knew it was going to be a well-pitched game and we were able to grind out some at bats. Now we've just got to come out [today] with intensity and try to get the sweep."
To be fair, a "well-pitched game" doesn't really do it justice - it was a flat-out duel most of the day.
Blair was stellar in his eight innings of work, yielding just one walk to go with the Cougars' two hits while striking out 11.
Houston ace Austin Pruitt matched Blair nearly the whole way, giving up just one run over the first seven innings until RBI singles from Andrew Dundon, Nathan Gomez and Gray Stafford broke it open for the Herd late.
"Everything was working," Blair said. "Fastball, changeup, curveball - I was down in the zone and they played great defense behind me. [It was] a great team win."
"The big difference in this start and his other starts was he was able to keep his pitch count down," Waggoner said of Blair. "He was efficient and did a great job of keeping us where we needed to be to win the game."
While Blair's been solid all year, the Herd (13-17 overall, 3-2 Conference USA) struggled throughout much of the season and found itself down nine runs early in Friday's game before an offensive explosion fueled a rally and a win.
Now, after two wins in a row over the Cougars (23-9, 5-3), spirits seem to be at an all-time high.
"I knew we were going to play our baseball, we just needed some more consistency," Waggoner said. "We've got some momentum going and it's just good to see our guys playing to our capability.
"It's big, especially against a ranked team that we're able to do this. We've got some tough teams coming up, so we need to get on a roll and start playing our best baseball."
"We're playing great baseball right now," Blair said. "Offensively, defensively, and we're pitching well. We've got to come out [today] and try to get a series sweep."
Aaron Bossi scored center fielder Isaac Ballou in the second inning to start the scoring for the Herd. Ballou singled and walked on Saturday, upping his streak of reaching base safely to 21 games.
Dundon and Stafford each went 2 for 4 for Marshall.
Righty Michael Taylor (3-2, 2.28 ERA) will take the ball for the Thundering Herd in today's series finale. First pitch is scheduled for 10 a.m.
Reach Ryan Pritt at 304-348-7948, firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him at twitter.com/RPritt.