Sunday, February 15, 2015

Herd Softball ECU Pirate Clash Weekend Wrap Up 2/15/15

GREENVILLE, N.C.—Hot off a 5-0 start last week at the Charleston Challenge, Marshall Softball took its undefeated record to the East Carolina Pirate Clash this past weekend. Marshall finished the event with a record of 3-1 with wins over host ECU, Bucknell and East Tennessee State while suffering its first loss of the season to Towson.

“I was very proud of the team this weekend,” Marshall Softball head coach
Shonda Stanton said. “ECU was the first game this year that we’ve had to battle back from being down and it was great to see those seventh inning clutch hits to come through for the win.”

Marshall opened the event with host East Carolina and had to battle through a challenge it had yet to face this season, losing. Entering the event, the Herd had yet to trail in a game but found itself down 2-0 after the first inning to the Pirates after they sent eight batters to the plate to start the contest. 

Herd ace Jordan Dixon struggled through the first two innings issuing three hits, a walk and plunking two before settling in for what proved to a record breaking night for the sophomore.

Marshall found its first answer for the 2-0 deficit in the fifth inning after Kristina Braxton delivered a bases-loaded pinch hit single to score Kylie Howard cutting the lead to 2-1. ECU responded in the bottom of the frame with a solo shot by Pirate shortstop Casey Alcorn making it 3-1.

Dave Myslenski/ Elicia D'Orazio
steps to the plate.
The Herd was down to its final strike twice in the top of the seventh but a RBI triple from Elicia D’Orazio brought Morgan Zerkle to the plate followed by a game-tying RBI single by Shaelynn Braxton that scored D’Orazio to tie the contest at three.

Marshall took the lead for good in the top of the ninth after Rebecca Myslenski scored the fourth run of the game for a 4-3 lead. However, the biggest play of the game possibly came on a stolen base attempt of Zerkle. After swiping third, Zerkle never slowed after an errant throw by the catcher allowed her to score to give the Herd a 5-3 lead.

ECU would threaten in the bottom of the ninth after a two-out single cut the lead to 5-4 but a groundball to Howard at short would end the Pirate rally giving the Herd its sixth win of the season.
Dave Myslenski/ Jordan Dixon works
in the circle for the Herd.
After a rough start to the contest, Dixon finished with a career-high 16 strikeouts in the winning effort.

Day two of the event pitted Marshall and Towson in the first ever meeting between the programs. The Herd jumped out to an early 1-0 lead on the Tigers after Zerkle led off the contest with a single, stole second, advanced to third on a ground out and scored on a RBI single by Shaelynn Braxton. Towson went hitless into the fourth inning before a two-out bunt single by Missy McCormick gave the Tigers their first baserunner of the game. However, another solid outing by Dixon limited the Tigers opportunities after she retired eight batters via the strikeout through four innings.

Marshall held the lead into the fifth but Towson found a spark in the home half of the inning after Holiday Cahill left the yard to tie the contest followed by three consecutive singles and a RBI double and a 3-1 Towson lead.

The Herd threatened in the top of the seventh inning with three singles by Katalin Lucas, Emily Cooper and Zerkle loaded the bases with one out. Taylor McCord dribbled a ball of the bat to the third baseman that came home to cut down Lucas’ scoring effort for the second out. With the bases still loaded, D’Orazio sent a hot chopper back to the pitcher in the circle and with a quick flip to first, Marshall picked up its first loss of the season.

“Honestly we were a little flat against Towson and offensively we didn’t get our sticks going like we needed to for a win,” Stanton said. “I like that we had the bases loaded in the seventh but couldn’t get the clutch hit we needed for the win.”

Marshall looked to bounce back Saturday morning against Bucknell after the Bison dropped its first game of the season Friday night to ETSU. The Herd jumped on the Bison in the first with back-to-back infield singles by Zerkle and Kaelynn Greene and took a 2-0 lead after Shaelynn Braxton sent a 2-RBI double into the gap in left field. Lucas followed with a RBI double of her own to score Braxton then scored on a RBI single from Cooper for a 4-0 lead.

Bucknell answered in the bottom frame of the first after a two-out single from Cydnee Sanders led to back-to-back Herd errors and two unearned Bison runs.  The Bison continued to attack Dixon in the circle but stellar defense halted the rally efforts. D’Orazio opened the inning with a backhand snag on a ball up the middle only to have Shaelynn Braxton make a diving stop and cut the runner down at first on a throw from her knees. The infield duo earned the approval of the ace in the circle.

“It gives me so much confidence and motivation when they make plays like that,” Dixon said. “Honestly its really fun to watch them make those plays.”

The Herd fourth started with three singles by D’Orazio, Zerkle and Greene putting the pressure back on the Bison hurler in the circle. Myslenski pushed across the fifth run of the game after earning a bases loaded walk to score D’Orazio and Zerkle would tag on a Lucas sac fly for a 6-2 lead.

Falecia Collier/ Morgan Zerkle ready
to steal another base.
But this day belonged to Morgan Zerkle. With McCord and D’Orazio reaching to start the fifth, the CUSA Preseason All-Conference Team member ripped a ball over the head of the drawn in outfielders for a three-run inside the park homerun. Cooper made it a 10-2 Herd lead on a RBI single to left to score Lucas.

Zerkle said the deep ball in the gap was a plan set in motion from Stanton.

“We had talked about it before the at bat and how close the outfield was pulled in,” Zerkle said. “It was good to have a plan in place and be able to go out and execute.”

Bucknell added a run in the bottom of the fifth but would get no closer as Marshall secured an 11-3 six-inning mercy rule win. Dixon earned her seventh win of the season after fanning 11 Bison hitters without issuing a walk. Zerkle finished 5-for-5 scoring four runs, driving in three RBI and swiping three bases.

“After beating out the throw on a swinging bunt in her fifth at-bat I just looked across at her and laughed,” said Stanton.  “She (Zerkle) is that good and gifted and this game is so much about what’s between the ears and having the confidence in what you’re doing. Right now, she has that and it’s fun to watch.”

Marshall closed out the event against ETSU as Zerkle picked up where she left off with Bucknell, picking up her eighth consecutive hit to open the game. Zerkle stole second and third and scored on a throwing error by the Bucs' catcher for a 1-0 Herd lead.

Marissa Bethke earned the start in the final game of the event but was lifted before finishing the first after walking the bases loaded. Brittanie Fowler entered the game in relief for the freshman Bethke and pitched out of the first-inning jam behind the first of many spectacular defensive plays by Howard at short.

Dave Myslenski/ Brittanie Fowler works
in the circle for the Herd.
“I was really excited to get into the game and even though there were runners on I wasn’t too worried about it,” said Fowler. “I have a really strong defense behind me so I wasn’t too worried about getting out of the jam.”

Marshall added runs in the second and fourth innings grabbing a 3-0 lead over ETSU but it’s was the defensive production by the freshman Howard that stole the show.

Howard robbed Danielle Knoetze of a sure hit after fielding a ball deep in the hole to end the third, picked a hot chopper off the dirt in the fifth, recorded all three outs in the sixth but saved her best play of the season for the final inning.

After issuing a leadoff walk in the seventh, Fowler turned the ball over to Dixon to close out the contest. Dixon had to worry about the leadoff walk for only one batter after Howard closed out her defensive display with a 6-3 double play on a hard-hit ball destined for center field.

“I’ve just been trying to focus defensively since I haven’t been able to get things going at the plate,” Howard said. “Whenever Fowler is pitching I am more alert up the middle because she forces a lot of ground ball that way and I just was in the right spot to make the play.

Dave Myslenski/ Howard readies to field
a ball for the Herd.
Stanton complimented the 2012 West Virginia Gatorade Player of the Year saying how important of a piece of the defensive puzzle Howard has become.

“She (Howard) is an incredible athlete as she has the speed, range and the strong arm at her position,” Stanton said. “She made every play today we needed her to make and how nice for Fowler to finally have people behind her to make plays.”

Fowler earned her first win of the season while Dixon picked her first save. 

While Fowler worked to keep the Buc's off balance throughout the contest, it was one pitch that Stanton said was crucial in the performance.

“Coach Bell did a nice job of mix in that change-up today and it was on,” Stanton said. “Fowler made them look silly on some pitches and if she can keep her pitches down in the zone like she did today, she will contribute to the program significantly this season.”

Marshall is out to its best start since 2010 when the Herd started 7-2. Moving to 8-1 this season, the Herd has achieved its eighth win this season in 18 fewer games than during the 2014 campaign.

The Herd heads to Tampa, FL this week for the USF Wilson DeMarini Tournament. Marshall opens the event with Dartmouth and USF Friday and No. 17 Auburn Saturday followed by two more games still to be determined.

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