Herd softball readies for league tourney
HUNTINGTON -- Marshall softball pitcher Andi Williamson remembers exactly what it felt like last season when the seniors walked off the field following the Thundering Herd's 3-2 loss to Tulsa in the Conference USA softball championship.
She remembers seeing the seniors walk off the field with her unsure if they would ever see the field again.
Days later, they found out they would not when Marshall didn't receive an NCAA tournament bid and Williamson herself became a senior.
Now, she is faced with the same plight as the C-USA tournament underway Thursday with an 8 p.m. matchup against East Carolina in Tulsa, Okla.
"We've had a chip on our shoulder from the beginning of the season and we've worked so hard because we remember that feeling," Williamson said. "We lost by one run in the championship. After walking off, that was our seniors' goal -- to work hard and come back ready to play. This weekend, we are leaving it all out on the field."
Marshall enters the tournament as the No. 4 seed and takes on a fifth-seeded East Carolina team that swept them in the regular season, compiling 38 runs in three games at Dot Hicks Field.
However, the Herd did not have Williamson in the series after she suffered a concussion just days before in a mid-week loss to Kentucky. Marshall also committed 18 total errors in the three games.
"We were all excited when we found out we got them first round because we want to show them what we're made of," Williamson said. "They didn't get a good impression of what Herd softball is about. We didn't play well that weekend and we're ready to go out and show what we're really made of."
The Thundering Herd comes into the postseason at 32-20 overall, but many people find the Herd to be one of the most dangerous teams playing with Williamson in the pitching circle and a solid mix of veteran leadership and bright newcomers.
C-USA showed its thoughts of the Herd on Wednesday when the all-conference team was announced. Marshall had six players selected for seven spots on the team.
Freshman outfielder Kaelynn Greene, who hit .344 with 28 runs scored and 30 stolen bases on 35 attempts, was named to the first team.
The second team featured three seniors -- Williamson, Ashley Gue and Jazmine Valle.
Williamson, the former standout at Chapmanville High School, is 29-16 with 326 strikeouts -- third-most in the nation -- in 268 innings of work. She has a 2.16 earned run average. It was Williamson's second-consecutive nomination to the second team.
Gue, a Cabell Midland High School product, finished as the Herd's leading overall hitter at .345 while leading the team in runs scored (29) and stolen bases (32).
Valle received second-team accolades for the third time (2010, 2012, 2013) in her four seasons after batting .310 and a team-leading 27 RBIs. She also had five home runs.
Marshall had three players named to the All-Freshman Team -- Greene, Shaelynn Braxton and Raquel Escareno.
Braxton finished the year with six home runs and 26 RBIs while 10 of Escareno's 21 hits were for extra bases, including five home runs.
According to Williamson, the Herd would not have been nearly as productive without the progression of those freshmen.
"They didn't really have much of an option," Williamson said. "We needed them to step up and each and every one of them have done a great job and gotten better individually. I'll be excited to see how good they are their senior year."
The Conference USA tournament is a single-elimination tournament that gets underway on Thursday with four games.
Semifinals will be held at 3 and 5 p.m. on Friday while Saturday's noon championship will be televised by CBS Sports Network.