HUNTINGTON - For years, many people never thought they would see the day Marshall University's baseball team took on perennial power Rice University in a near-campus series.
Now, the Owls' first-ever trip to Huntington comes at a crucial time for the Thundering Herd as it looks to secure a berth in the Conference USA Baseball Tournament, which takes place May 22-26 at MGM Park in Biloxi, Miss. Marshall plays Rice at 3 p.m. Friday, 2 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m. Sunday on George T. Smailes Field at the Huntington YMCA Kennedy Center.
Marshall (25-26, 11-15 C-USA) is seventh in the league with the top eight teams making the tournament. For Marshall to earn the tournament berth the Herd must reverse its fortunes in C-USA play where it has lost five of its last six games.
The good news for the Herd is that the team is coming off a win over Ohio in mid-week action that gave head coach Jeff Waggoner the 300th win of his career. In that contest, Marshall came back from a deficit to earn a 10-7 victory when the bullpen shut down the Bobcats over the final three innings to give Waggoner the milestone.
While the milestone is great, Waggoner is much more focused on attempting to secure wins Nos. 301-303.
Getting those wins is not going to be easy against a Rice (24-28. 14-13) team that brings plenty of talent to the table.
Designated hitter Andrew Dunlap is hitting .328 with 12 home runs and 54 RBI while shortstop Trei Cruz is hitting .306 with eight home runs and 40 RBI.
The Owls' top strength is on the mound, however, where a pair of starting pitchers boasting earned run averages of less than 3.50. The leader of the staff is junior Matt Canterino, who comes in at 6-5 with a 2.93 ERA.
Canterino has been at his best late in the year, allowing just six runs in his last four appearances (26.1 innings).
Senior Evan Kravetz has also been strong for the Owls with a 5-2 record and 3.33 ERA. Kravetz has surged late in the season, allowing just three earned runs (six total) in his last five starts with four of those being quality starts of seven innings or more. He has 47 strikeouts in that five-game stretch.
Marshall shortstop Elvia Peralta has been steady all season for the Herd, batting .369 with nine home runs and 40 RBI while Tucker Linder (.330 avg., 6 HR, 44 RBI) and Rey Pastrana (.285, 8 HR, 30 RBI) have added pop. Shane Hanon's return from injury has also been vital for the Herd offense. In 29 games, Hanon has five home runs with 26 RBI.
Joshua Shapiro leads the Herd on the mound with a 5-3 record and a 3.38 ERA. Shapiro will be Thursday's starter if Waggoner holds to the normal rotation.
MARSHALL 10, OHIO 7: Rey Pastrana and Shane Hanon hit home runs for Marshall University in a 10-7 baseball victory Tuesday against Ohio University at Bob Wren Stadium.
Pastrana smacked a solo homer in the second inning. Hanon's homer was a two-run shot in the fifth inning. Elvis Peralta's two-RBI single was the big hit for Marshall (25-26) in a four-run seventh inning. Peralta and Pastrana both had three hits in the game. Rudy Rott of the Bobcats (16-31) also had three hits.
Marshall relief pitcher Ryan Falls (5-1) picked up the victory while Garett Priestley recorded his first save this season.
The Thundering Herd plays host to Rice in a three-game Conference USA series to end the regular season beginning with a 3 p.m. Thursday contest at the Huntington YMCA Kennedy Center.