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Revived MU faces big series at ODU

May 9, 2019

There’s a huge difference between sliding and skidding in baseball. Nobody knows that better than veteran Marshall University baseball coach Jeff Waggoner.

His Thundering Herd was rolling along with a 22-15 overall record and 9-7 in Conference USA. But, then, the bottom inexplicably dropped out.

First, there were back-to-back 19-6 and 11-1 pummelings at Louisiana Tech. Next, there was a tough 5-4 home loss to Morehead State. Then, there were 9-1 and 6-5 losses at UAB wrapped around an ugly 15-10 win.

Next, there was a 2-0 loss at West Virginia University, another home loss to Morehead State and an 11-7 home loss to UTSA.

The Herd had lost eight of its last nine and was reeling with a 23-23 record (10-12 C-USA).

That’s when it happened.

Rehabbing pitcher Wade Martin hurled four strong innings Saturday, injured leading hitter Shane Hanon returned to the lineup with a 2-for-4 day at the plate and, suddenly, Marshall got its mojo back.

The Herd defeated UTSA, 3-2, and the skid was over.

That victory was the momentum changer Marshall needed.

“I think so,” said Waggs. “I really do. I think that helped us get over the hump. I wish we would have played Sunday (called because of poor playing conditions). But I think that win was big for the program.”

Big? It was huge.

Heading into a weekend series at Old Dominion, a mid-week game at Ohio University and a regularseason finale series against Rice at the Kennedy Center on May 16-18, Marshall desperately needed to break its slump and get back on track.

“When you go through a slump,” said Waggoner, “I don’t think you can put your finger on just one thing. You lose your three-hole hitter in Hanon and, now, he’s back. Murphy (left-handed reliever Patrick Murphy) goes down, who was probably one of our best bullpen guys. He was the long guy for us.

“And Wade Martin (recovering from Tommy John surgery) is just now getting his innings up, which is going to help with him and Shane (Hanon) coming back. Murphy is going to be out for the year, which is going to hurt us.

“But the facts that Wade’s innings are climbing up and Shane is back in your lineup are big. It’s tough when you lose a guy hitting .380 out of your lineup. It just changes the lineup. You take anybody’s better players out. ... it happened to us last year. It just changes the game.

“Conference USA is a really good conference. You can play well and get beat.”

That’s precisely what Marshall has to avoid this weekend.

“Old Dominion is playing really well,” said Waggs. “I think they have won their last five conference weekends. ... and we’re playing at their place. They are one game behind us and they have won their last five conference weekends. Baseball is a game of momentum. And they started out with one conference win, but they’ve been on a tear.”

MU is in sixth place in the C-USA standings with an 11-12 record, followed by Old Dominion (11-13) in seventh and UTSA (10-13) in eighth. The top eight teams advance to the C-USA Tournament.

“We’re in sixth,” said Waggoner, “but we could be in third after a good weekend. So, you’re one weekend from moving up to third or you’re one weekend from moving out.”

It’s time for MU to go on a roll.

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