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Marshall has a Rey of hope

May 22, 2019

Rey Pastrana remembers how it felt.

And he wanted to feel it again.

That’s why Marshall University’s star catcher was so driven, so motivated to lead his Thundering Herd baseball team back to the Conference USA Tournament.

Pastrana began his career at Marshall that way, playing in the 2016 C-USA Tournament as a freshman. So, naturally, the Miami native wanted to finish his collegiate baseball career by reaching the 2019 tournament as a senior.

It’s simply appropriate symmetry.

That explains Pastrana’s extra motivation last week during an impressive three-game sweep of Rice University, which featured three walk-off victories by the Herd.

And now?

Pastrana will make his return to the Conference USA Tournament when No. 6 seed Marshall plays third-seeded Louisiana Tech in a first-round game at 10 a.m. Wednesday in MGM Park in Biloxi, Mississippi.

“I mean, it’s awesome,” said Pastrana when asked about returning to C-USA Tournament competition. “The last time I made it was my freshman year.

“I honestly forget all the thrill that comes with it. It’s awesome just sweeping such a great team — three walk-off wins. I mean, that momentum is the best thing you could have going into the tournament.”

Nobody in C-USA entered the tournament on more of a roll than Marshall.

It’s not possible.

“Especially getting walked-off twice the weekend before (at Old Dominion),” pointed out Pastrana. “It was tough getting swept last weekend. It was hard times, but we bounced back.

“We had a good midweek game (Ohio University), won that one and kept the momentum going into the last weekend and we pulled up on top of all three games.”

Marshall played a three-game series against Louisiana Tech on April 18-20 in Ruston, Louisiana, with mixed results. The Herd was hammered 19-6 and 11-1 by LA Tech while losing the last two games of the series.

But the Herd won the opening game, 7-3, behind a strong pitching performance from Josh Shapiro. The senior left-hander struck out 12 in 6 2/3 innings, while allowing three hits and three earned runs.

Shapiro is expected to be Marshall’s starting pitcher against the Bulldogs in the Conference USA Tournament.

Besides Shapiro, the Herd expects the late-inning lightning it displayed against Rice to make a reappearance. Marshall scored 14 runs against the Owls, but 11 of those runs occurred in the eighth inning or later.

“Everyone said, ‘Hey, we can’t be losing these games,’ ” said Pastrana, ” ‘We’re a better team than this.’ We come out flat some games and it takes some time for us to realize we have to pick it up and win the game.”

One player after another came up with the big hit or big play. First, it was Geordon Blanton with his daring base-running. Next, it was Raul Cabrera with a stunning home run. Then it was Pastrana with a clutch double and Andrew Zban with a stunning solo home run.

But the catalyst? The guy who runs the show, according to Marshall coach Jeff Waggoner? It’s Pastrana.

The 6-foot-1, 200-pound senior is hitting .282 with 13 doubles, one triple, eight homers and 31 RBI.

“Everyone in the starting lineup has the potential to do damage at any point in the game,” said Pastrana. “That’s why we’re never out of any game.”

It’s also why MU is back in the Conference USA Tournament.

Chuck Landon is a sports columnist for The Herald-Dispatch. Contact him at clandon@herald-dispatch.com.

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