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Herd looks to get back into C-USA tournament race

Assistant Sports Editor

Published: Thursday, April 18, 2013

Updated: Thursday, April 18, 2013 14:04

There are nine teams in Conference USA baseball. Eight make it into the C-USA Tournament. Marshall baseball wants to make sure that this year, they’re not the lone team left watching.

“It would mean a lot to us as a team,” senior catcher Matt Kirkwood said of the opportunity. “We feel like we have something to prove, and we need to get into that tournament to do so.”

Senior Nathan Gomez was in agreement with Kirkwood’s statement.

“It means everything to the seniors to get back in the tournament,” Gomez said. “It’s what we’ve been working towards all year.”

The Herd sits at the bottom of the standings right now, tied with UAB at 3-6.

“With a lot of the players on this team have never been there before, it would be an accomplishment because we’ve been working all year for that,” Kirkwood said. “But it doesn’t stop at just making the tournament.”

The Herd travels to Orlando, Fla., this weekend to face UCF in a three game series. The Knights are fourth in C-USA with an even 6-6 record in conference play. UCF was  a 2012 NCAA Regional team and won 45 games in the 2012 campaign.

The big offensive threat for the Knights is senior Chris Taladay, who sits in the top three in nearly every hitting category in C-USA. The catcher/ third baseman is hitting .362 this season with 33 RBI.

“We know they are a solid team,” Kirkwood said. “They play good defense and they put three solid starters on the mound.”

The most solid of the Knight’s pitching staff appears to be junior right-hander Ben Lively. Lively   has a record of 5-3 and leads both UCF and C-USA with a 1.09 earned run average.

Kirkwood said there are two words he would use to describe his team this year, and records and statistics are not them.

“Competitors; confident-those are the best words to describe our team,” Kirkwood said. “We’ve been in almost every single game this year and proven that we can play with anybody. This leads to the confidence, and after seeing that, we can play with anyone- we don’t care who the opponent is.”

Kirkwood said the Herd knows what must be done to earn a victory.

“We know that if we do what we have to do, as a team and individuals, we can get the job done.”

The Pennsylvania native is hitting .230 on the season and said he steps in the batter’s box each time with a different mindset.

“Every time I step in the batter’s box, I have a plan,” Kirkwood said. “It all depends on the situation, but my main focus is to have a quality at bat and to help my team win in anyway I can during that at bat.”

Marshall is 13-22 this season, after Tuesday night’s contest against Ohio was canceled in the third inning. The Herd was winning 2-1 at the time of the call.

Kirkwood said the biggest problem for the team is the later innings.

“If we are behind going into the 7th, 8th, 9th- that will be our hurdle we need to get over.”

Kirkwood said he has a way to solve that problem.

“We just need to keep the energy up the whole game. As a team we need to pick one another up, trust the guys who are playing, and take care of business in the later innings.”

The series with UCF  will be a homecoming of sorts for some of the Herd. The team has seven players from Florida- Gomez is one of them.

“I’m super excited. I can’t wait to see my friends and my family,” Gomez said.

Baseball runs in the family, as Gomez’s older brother Victor also played for the Herd.

“It’s been a blessing from start to finish. The best years I’ve had in a baseball uniform have come  at Marshall playing with my brother.”

The last time Marshall made it to the C-USA tournament, Gomez was playing with his brother. Maybe this year’s finish could be the best for Gomez , even without his brother alongside him.

Caitie Smith can be contacted at smith1650@marshall.edu.

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