Chuck Landon: MU pulls fairy tale sweep of Rice
It reads like a fairy tale.
Marshall University’s baseball team entered a do-or-die, back-to-the-wall weekend series against Rice University with an all-time record of 2-24 vs. the Owls.
Even worse, the Thundering Herd needed two wins to capture a berth in the Conference USA Tournament.
It didn’t look good for the home team.
But, inexplicably, the seemingly impossible turned into the merely improbable. There’s a profound difference in those two concepts.
Just ask Rice.
Three whirlwind days later at George T. Smailes Field at the Huntington YMCA Kennedy Center, the beleaguered Owls had been swept in the three-game series by the opportunistic, late-inning-lightning Herd.
All three were walk-off wins for Marshall.
Mull that over a moment.
First, MU stunned Rice 5-4 with a walk-off win in the 11th inning Thursday. Next, the Herd defeated Rice 4-3 in the 10th inning with another walk-off win Friday. And, finally, Marshall spun the Owls’ heads around with a 5-4 walk-off win in the ninth inning Saturday.
Imagine walk-off wins in the ninth, 10th and 11th innings against Rice.
“It’s unbelievable,” said veteran Marshall coach Jeff Waggoner. “I can’t explain it. Other than, these guys believe in themselves. I’ve never seen it.”
Marshall scored 14 runs in the three-game series against Rice. Guess when 11 of the 14 runs occurred. During the eighth inning or later.
The Herd scored five runs during the series in the eighth inning, four in the ninth inning and one apiece in the 10th and 11th innings.
Sounds like the National Weather Service should have issued a late-inning lightning alert for “The Deuce.”
“I just think it comes down to believing in themselves,” said Waggs. “They know they’re a good offense. They’re pitching well, playing defense to keep us right there and they believe in themselves offensively.
“It just takes a string of good at-bats, and that’s what it came down to.”
It also takes a strong group of seniors. The list includes starting catcher Rey Pastrana, first baseman Shane Hanon, left fielder Tucker Linder, center fielder Erik Rodriguez, third baseman Raul Cabrera, designated hitter Andrew Zban and No. 1 starting pitcher Josh Shapiro.
“I think it all goes back to this senior group - Senior Day,” said Waggoner on Saturday. “I’m proud of these seniors for what they’ve given Marshall University in four years. They have all graduated.
“You know, as freshmen, a few of them had a chance to play for a championship in the regular season. They wanted to get back to this level. I’m just proud of the adversity that we have handled.”
Remember, the Herd’s record was once 22-15. Now, it’s 28-26.
“This is the team we expected,” said Waggs. “We had it early on when we were 22-15. They’re finally playing together again. We can go down the list of things that they weren’t doing and not playing together as a team, but they’re doing it right now.
“It couldn’t happen at a better time - going into the Conference USA Tournament. I think these guys feel like they can beat anybody. So, it’s one game at a time at this point. You’ve got to be playing right at the right time. And they’re doing that. All I have to do is stay out of the way.”
Reads like a fairy tale, doesn’t it?
Let’s call it “Waggs and the Bean Stalk.”
Chuck Landon is a sports columnist for The Herald-Dispatch. Contact him at email@example.com.