Chuck Landon: Marshall was the better team Thursday
It’s a “bucket list” of sorts.
We all have them.
They are a fluctuating list of comments we hope we’ll have the opportunity to say some day.
The older we get, the longer the list.
That’s why I was so pleased to cross one off on Thursday.
When Marshall University’s Geordon Blanton stepped on home plate with the winning run in the Thundering Herd’s 5-4 baseball victory in 11 innings over Rice at George T. Smailes Field at the Huntington YMCA Kennedy Center, I turned to my buddy and at approximately 6:38 p.m. made a significant statement.
“The best team won today,” I said.
Then I repeated it.
I relished the moment that much.
That’s because no one ever has been able to make that statement legitimately since Marshall joined Conference USA in 2005.
Not that the Herd hadn’t beaten Rice during that span. Marshall has. Twice. MU came into the game Thursday with an all-time record of 2-24 vs. Rice.
Was the Herd the better team in those two wins? No. But sometimes in athletics the best team doesn’t win.
That wasn’t the case at “The Deuce” on Thursday, however. For the first time, Marshall was indeed the better team and won.
The Herd outhit Rice 12-5, outhustled Rice, outscored Rice 5-4 and outpitched Rice.
If not for MU starting pitcher Josh Shapiro making one mistake pitch by leaving a fastball up and over the middle of the plate that Rice’s Andrew Dunlap deposited about 425 feet away to dead-center field for a three-run homer, the Herd wouldn’t have needed extra innings.
That’s because Marshall clearly was the best team on the field Thursday.
Ah, it feels good to say that.
For that I owe Blanton a debt of gratitude. If it weren’t for the sophomore second baseman’s smart, savvy, heads-up base-running in the 11th inning, Marshall might not have won.
Here’s what happened.
After Blanton lined a single — his third hit of the day — left-hand hitting Erik Rodriguez dropped a perfect sacrifice bunt down the third-base line. It rolled just far enough that the third baseman had to make the play.
The heady Blanton processed all that on the dead run and rounded second base like an 18-wheeler ignoring an unmanned weigh station on his way to third base.
Yes, he actually went from first to third on a sacrifice bunt.
“I saw no one was covering third,” said Blanton. “And I knew the pitcher wasn’t that athletic and I thought I could beat him there. I don’t like to play this game scared, so I just went for it. I looked and no one was covering, so I thought I’d put pressure on them.
“They had to make a great play and a great throw to get me out. It worked out for me. That’s one thing I am known for — aggressive base-running. That’s how I play the game. I like to put pressure on ’em.”
In turn, that eased the pressure on Marshall. The Herd went on to beat Rice 4-3 in 10 innings Friday and clinched a berth in the Conference USA Tournament.
The Thursday win was the linchpin.
That’s because the best team won.
Chuck Landon is a sports columnist for The Herald-Dispatch. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.