By David Rogers. BOONE, N.C. — Centerfielder Mary Pierce Barnes went 3-for-3 and App State teammates Taylor Thorp and Ambry Lucas clubbed a pair of doubles on March 18, but it wasn’t near enough firepower to overcome a late innings hitting barrage by Marshall at Sywassink/Lloyd Field. The Thundering Herd won the Sun Belt Conference season opener, 8-0.
When a team comes into a softball game with six of nine batters on the lineup card sporting .337 batting averages or better, including four over .400, you might expect a slugfest a-comin’. It took awhile, but Marshall didn’t disappoint in that regard.
The Mountaineers’ starting pitcher, Kaylie Northrop, held the visitors to just 2 runs through the first four innings, but a 4-run explosion by the Herd in the top of the 5th inning chased the junior transfer from UNLV and kept on pummeling the ball when reliever Delani Buckner took command of the circle.
Marshall catcher Autumn Owen, a junior from Mill Spring, N.C., capped a big day at the plate with a 2-RBI home run in the top of the 6th inning to all but put the game out of reach for the Mountaineers. Owen’s stat line for the day: 3-for-4, 2 runs scored, 3 RBIs.
The Herd’s leadoff batter, sophomore rightfielder Alex Coleman, is also a North Carolina native (Asheboro). Coleman went 1-for-3 on the day, scoring a run and with two stolen bases.
Marshall’s redshirt senior starting pitcher Sydney Nester went the distance and earned the win, limiting the Mountaineers to no runs on six hits, walking five and striking out four. Of the 28 batters she faced, five App State batters flied out while eight grounded out. A native of Hillsville, Va., Nester graduated with a degree in sports management from NC State, in just three years, before starting work on a Master’s degree in communication studies at Marshall while using her final years of athletic eligibility.
After the game, Mountaineer head coach Shelly Hoerner was disappointed in her team’s performance, especially in light of going 15-6 before the opening of Sun Belt play.
“Marshall came through in critical situations and, obviously, we didn’t,” said Hoerner, now in her sixth year at the helm of the Mountaineers’ program. “We had the bases loaded. We had runners in scoring position, but we didn’t do a very good job of situational hitting. It is a different game when you play clean in the field and I think a couple of errors cost us.
“I always say that to win a softball game, you need to win at least two of the three basic elements: pitching, hitting and defense,” she said. “We didn’t win any of the three. Marshall did a good job in situational hitting and we didn’t. Credit to them. They are a very good team. I thought Kaylie Northrop pitched well early on, but we need to back our pitchers up with hitting and defense, too.”
If it was even possible, the Mountaineer bats were colder than the 37-degree weather braved by an estimated crowd approaching 300 softball fans, including a large contingent of Marshall supporters. Because of Friday evening’s drenching rain, the originally scheduled 2 p.m. first pitch for the opener of league play (that also served as Parents Day for the Mountaineers) was moved to 4 p.m., to allow the outfield more time to dry out and become playable. With the late afternoon start, the field conditions may have been drier but the temperatures dropped precipitously as the game wore on. As a result, the second half of what was scheduled as a doubleheader was cancelled.
The Mountaineers are hoping for warmer and drier conditions on Tuesday, March 21 and Wednesday, March 22, when they host North Carolina (6 p.m.) and North Carolina A&T (4 p.m.), respectively, for non-conference tilts.