CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Today, Marshall enters Conference USA season No. 8 in perhaps its most difficult sport, baseball.Accordingly, the Thundering Herd begins its eighth season of using Appalachian Power Park as its home for conference games. The University of Alabama at Birmingham provides the opposition for the weekend, beginning at 4:05 p.m. today.The standard three-game series continues at 7:05 p.m. Saturday and 1:05 p.m. Sunday, though expected showers Sunday could alter that. Two more C-USA home series will be played in Charleston and the last one will take place in Beckley's Epling Stadium.C-USA baseball hasn't been easy on the Herd, which is 54-112-1 in league games since 2006. It hasn't been a hopeless time under seventh-year coach Jeff Waggoner, though - the 2010 Herd split its 24 league games and the 2008 team fought its way to the C-USA tournament final.
Still, the Herd (10-13) hasn't won a three-game series in league play since 2011, and took just one that year. Trying to end that trend, coach Jeff Waggoner will start freshman right-hander Chase Boster (1-3, 3.72 ERA) today, followed by Aaron Blair (3-1, 2.83) Saturday. Blair is the reigning league pitcher of the week, so honored after his six scoreless innings March 19 against West Virginia.
Marshall will start another freshman, Michael Taylor (3-1, 1.45) in the third game of the series. Taylor is the St. Albans native who excelled as a freshman before going off to Christchurch (Va.) School, a college-preparatory boarding school.The Herd's top hitters include sophomore second baseman Andrew Dundon, who has three hits in each of the last two games. Senior outfielder Isaac Ballou has reached base in the last 15 games, with an on-base percentage of .507 in that stretch.UAB (10-14, 0-3 C-USA) has struggled much like Marshall in C-USA play, not enjoying a winning league mark since 1998. But the Blazers won the C-USA tournament last year from the No. 7 seed and played in the NCAA tournament. UAB leads the all-time series 14-11 and took two of three last year in Birmingham.BRIEFLY: Last week, the other eight C-USA teams began play, with MU having a "bye." MU spent the weekend losing two of three at Radford. ... The Herd had one midweek game, losing 8-2 at eighth-ranked Kentucky. ... Amazingly, the Herd has had just two league games cancelled by the weather in seven seasons, and has played all 24 the last four years. ... C-USA has nine baseball teams, with Tulsa, Texas-El Paso and Southern Methodist not sponsoring the sport. That should rise to 13 for 2014 and 14 for 2015, pending the expected loss of Tulsa and invitation of Western Kentucky. Of the eight new schools arriving next season, only North Texas does not sponsor the sport.Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.