Shapiro, Herd top Hilltoppers
HUNTINGTON — Just about 15 minutes before the scheduled first pitch Friday the Western Kentucky University baseball series opener with Marshall University was delayed by a sudden downpour that pushed action back nearly an hour.
A sudden change in schedule could alter a team’s focus, but Marshall remained unfazed, led by the pitching of Joshua Shapiro, in an 8-2 win over the Hilltoppers at George T. Smailes Field at the Huntington YMCA Kennedy Center.
“I think it starts with Shapiro,” Marshall head coach Jeff Waggoner said. “He’s coming out and pounding the zone on both sides with his fastball and he’s throwing an off-speed pitch at any count. He’s a bulldog on Friday night and that’s what you expect.”
Shapiro came out and set the tone in the first inning, but it was the offense that used timely hitting and aggressive base running to stake a lead that was plenty for the Herd’s senior on the mound.
Tucker Linder increased his hitting streak to 18 games with an RBI single in the first inning to score Erik Rodriguez and get Marshall (19-14, 7-6 Conference USA) on the board and the Thundering Herd put up consecutive three-run innings in the second and third to stake a 7-0 advantage.
The biggest knock during the sequence was in the second inning when Elvis Peralta hit a two-out, two-run home run that doubled the lead to 4-0. Peralta later added an RBI double in the fifth inning to finish with three RBIs on the day.
For Shapiro, that cushion gave him comfort out on the mound to pitch effectively and let his defense work behind him. Shapiro allowed two runs on four hits with three walks and six strikeouts in seven innings while moving to 5-1 on the season.
“Again, the bats came out to play,” Shapiro said. “They’ve been putting up runs for me the past few weeks. Just being able to go out and pitch with the lead and attack hitters, it’s huge. When I go out there, I’m just trying to attack people no matter what, but knowing I have a lead in the back of my head, it just makes it easier. If a guy gets on base, I’m less worried.”
Shapiro allowed just a solo home run to WKU’s Richard Constantine in the fourth inning, but ran into trouble in the eighth with back-to-back walks that loaded the bases with no outs in the middle of the Hilltoppers’ lineup.
Bryan Callaly came on and struck out Constantine before Jake Sanford’s excuse-me infield single plated a run after it appeared Sanford had gone around on a would-be third strike. Callaly stayed in his zone, however, and got Dillon Nelson to line into an inning-ending double play to Peralta at shortstop that cemented the win.
“Bryan came into a tough situation and he wasn’t fazed,” Waggoner said. “He came right at them. Even on a tough call that could’ve gone either way, it didn’t phase him at all. He went right back at the next hitter and pounded the zone.”
Marshall’s aggressive nature on the bases worked out well with the Herd stealing four bases and also taking advantage of situations to snag extra bases.
In addition to the steals, Luke Edwards scored in the second inning on a heads-up play when he saw WKU second baseman Jack Wilson go to the turf after a hard slide by Raul Cabrera on a force-out.
Marshall also scored on a wild pitch and a hustle triple by Geordon Blanton in the third inning while Peralta hustled into second with a double after his lazy flyball found no-man’s land in front of four WKU fielders in the fifth inning.
It was part of an all-around solid day of baseball for the Herd to lead off the three-game C-USA set.
“I thought we ran the bases well — stole bases and put pressure on them,” Waggoner said. “That’s kind of what our philosophy is, whether it is stealing bases or taking the extra bag on routine balls, I felt we did that today.”
Peralta, Linder, Edwards and Blanton all had two hits each for the Herd.
Marshall and Western Kentucky (15-16-1, 7-5-1) return to George T. Smailes Field at 11 a.m. Saturday for a doubleheader to wrap up the series. The time change was made because of inclement weather expected Sunday.