Herd softball on to CUSA Championship

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BIRMINGHAM, AL The No. 4 seed Marshall softball team had its back against the wall after falling to No. 2 Louisiana Tech, 5-4, Friday morning. However, the Herd fought back and defeated No. 1 seed North Texas, 1-0, in the afternoon to punch its ticket into the Conference Tournament Championship.

It is Marshall’s first time back in the title game since 2014. The Thundering Herd will face off against Louisiana Tech for the championship and the chance to be the automatic qualifier for the NCAA Tournament. First pitch for the Championship game has been moved up to 10 a.m. central, 11 a.m. eastern time. The game will be on CBS Sports Network as well as 88.1 WMUL-FM with audio streamed online at www.marshall.edu/wmul through Stream 1. Scott Hall will have the call of the action on WMUL.

The Thundering Herd improved overall to 39-19.

“Obviously I am extremely proud of our team and our fight today,” Herd head Megan Smith said. “Even in the first game, even though we lost, I feel like we kept fighting and had some momentum going into the second game.

“The game against North Texas, I mean what a game. Both teams played really well. For Tolbert to go out there a second time and shut them down and only give up three hits, that was one of the best pitching performances I’ve seen in a long time. She was dominant, confident and our team fed off of it and we made great plays behind her. Then Aly Harrell came up big.

“It was a great day, a great game and we are excited to have another crack at Louisiana Tech tomorrow for the championship.”

Game One: No. 2 Louisiana Tech 5, No. 4 Marshall 4
Marshall fell behind 5-0 early and showed some late game fight, but it wasn’t enough to move straight into the championship game. The Lady Techsters held on and Marshall dropped down into the bottom bracket needing to play another game for a chance to get into the title contest.

Senior pitcher Abigail Tolbert got the start in the circle and was pulled after the first inning when LA Tech scored two runs. Junior Kailee Williamson pitched the rest of the way and allowed three more runs, but then held the Lady Techsters off the scoreboard from the fourth inning through the sixth.

Marshall finally put up one run in the top of the fourth inning as sophomore Rachel Rousseau drove in freshman Rachel Pennington with a double to right-center. The Herd added another run in the fifth when senior Hannah Giammarino hit a one-out double to right-center and then scored on a single down the left field line by sophomore Armani Brown.

Trailing 5-2, Williamson and the Herd defense made the plays in the bottom of the fifth and sixth innings to keep the deficit at three.

Marshall made things interesting in the top of the seventh with Brown at first base, two outs and freshman Mya Stevenson coming to the plate. Stevenson crushed her team and league-leading 17th home run of the season to right-center, cutting the lead to one at 5-4. Louisiana Tech made a great defensive play to end it and advanced straight to the championship game.

The Herd then had a one game break in between as North Texas defeated Middle Tennessee to move on to the final game of the day.

Junior Sierra Huerta was plunked two more times in the loss to the Lady Techsters, bringing her season total to 28. She was walked once as well. Stevenson finished with two of Marshall’s five hits including the homer in the seventh.

Game Two: No. 4 Marshall 1, No. 1 North Texas 0
It was another pitching and defensive battle, much like the first meeting on Thursday, and the Herd again came away with the 1-0 victory. This time, the win put Marshall into the championship game.

Tolbert didn’t have the strikeout numbers (eight to one) that she did from the first meeting with the Mean Green, but this time Tolbert allowed just three hits and three free passes (two walks and one hit-by-pitch) in the complete-game, shutout victory. It was Tolbert’s 24th complete game of the season and 10th shutout.

The Herd offense recorded just six hits as the North Texas defense made great plays behind its pitchers as well.

Marshall finally scored the only run of the game in the top of the sixth as sophomore Aly Harrell belted her 14th home run of the season, and 25th of her career, over the fence in left.

The excitement and the momentum for the Herd carried back around to the defensive side as Marshall retired the Mean Green in order in the bottom of the sixth and showed the grit and fight to hang on in the seventh.

After the Herd stranded three runners on base in the top of the seventh, Tolbert and the defense stepped out to hold on to the one-run advantage. The leadoff batter for the Mean Green got on base with a single, took second on a sacrifice bunt, and then moved to third on a ground out to Huerta at short. Finally, with a 1-1 count, Tolbert induced another ground ball to her junior shortstop and Huerta made the throw to Harrell at first for the final out and the celebration ensued.

Harrell was walked two more times in the win, bringing her team and league-leading total to 63. With her solo homer, Harrell has now driven in 40 or more runs in both of her seasons with the Herd and has a career total of 81. Her 25 career homers are good for ninth all-time in team history. Huerta was hit by a pitch in the sixth as her total climbed to 29.

Tolbert earned her 26th win of the season, fourth most in a single-season in team history.