Herd settles for split
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A tough second inning saddled Marshall pitcher Michael Taylor with a loss in his Conference USA debut Saturday night, but his coach sees nothing but a bright future out of him.
Hampered by an error and two walks, the St. Albans native gave up five runs in that frame, allowing Alabama-Birmingham to take a 5-1 lead en route to a 12-4 victory.
That gave UAB (12-15, 2-4) a split of the doubleheader Saturday - Marshall won the opener 3-1 - and allowed the Blazers to win two in the three-game series. It was the 12th straight C-USA series loss for the Thundering Herd (11-15, 1-2), which hasn't won such a set since the middle of the 2011 season.
Taylor (3-2) received the loss but not nearly all the blame. Coach Jeff Waggoner hung with the 6-foot-6 freshman through five innings, and he gave up six runs - three unearned - on just five hits. His earned-run average climbed from a daunting 1.45 to a still-very-good 2.28.
"He's got the right mentality when he goes out there. He's aggressive and attacks guys," Waggoner said.
He pitched like that right away in high school, putting up impressive numbers in his freshman season of 2008 at St. Albans - 6-1, 3.41 ERA, 63 strikeouts in 362/3 innings.
But he had off-field problems and his life took a detour to Christchurch School, a private college-prep boarding school an hour east of Richmond, Va. MU football fans may know another Christchurch alum, football offensive lineman Josh Lovell.
The small-school atmosphere, discipline and rigorous curriculum did wonders.
"Honestly, it was a little bit of trouble. Rough patch in my life," Taylor said. "Honestly, I got to college and the work was easier. It was a time when you needed to get away; it was the right move for me."
Taylor is the only West Virginian who has hit the field for the Herd this season. The other state native on the roster is freshman infielder Steven Lewis, a Capital High grad.
"They saw me play a couple of times, and they made me a good offer, close to home," Taylor said. "It wasn't really a major decision, I guess you could say, I just wanted to be close to home; my family hadn't seen me play for three years. It was just good getting back."
"Michael's a kid we were on for a long time, maybe his sophomore year," Waggoner said. "He's a kid we wanted in the program because of his makeup and the person he is, and his talent. He's going to have a great future in this game if he keeps working."
Taylor struck out two of the first five UAB batters before the next three singled to make it 1-0 in that second inning. A fielding error made it 2-0, and Adam Lau's two-run single made it 4-0. A Ryan Prinzing sacrifice fly accounted for the fifth run.
UAB scored an unearned run in the third on an error, walk and two sacrifice bunts, the second a Wes Kent squeeze that caught the Herd by surprise. Taylor threw solid fourth and fifth innings.
"I thought he made some pitches that could have gone his way and didn't go his way," Waggoner said. "His pitch count got up and he couldn't locate his off-speed pitches, and obviously you can't do that no matter how hard you throw. And he threw hard, but he's got to throw his secondary [pitches] for strikes or guys are going to take good swings on his fastball. He's not putting anybody away."
For the first six innings, it looked as if the Herd was going to bail out Taylor. Marshall scored twice in the second to make it 5-3 and got an Andrew Dundon single in the fifth that made it 6-4. In the sixth, the Herd had runners on second and third with one out, and the bases loaded with two outs.
But Dundon looked at strike three, ending the last threat. The Herd's bullpen was roughed up for six runs in the final three innings.
Marshall won the first game 3-1 with ace Aaron Blair (4-1) getting the win. He wasn't nearly as effective as he was 11 days earlier when he threw six hitless innings against West Virginia, but he escaped several jams. Ryan Hopkins pitched the final three innings, retiring all nine for his second save.
The Herd used an error and a sacrifice fly in the fourth to take a 2-1 lead, then got an RBI pinch-single from Alfredo Brito in the seventh for insurance.
Marshall has a big week ahead, playing at WVU at 6 p.m. Tuesday, then traveling to Eastern Kentucky for a 3 p.m. game Wednesday. The Herd returns to Appalachian Power Park next weekend for a series against Houston, one of two C-USA teams currently ranked.
With the West Virginia Power in town, MU's start times will be 2:05 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 10 a.m. Sunday.
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130 or email@example.com or at twitter.com/dougsmock.