MU women top ECU
BOCA RATON, Fla. -- Back-to-back-to-back.
Marshall University's softball team plays Saturday in the Conference USA championship game for the third consecutive year.
Raquel Escareno's bases-loaded single in the top of the eighth inning Friday lifted Marshall past East Carolina, 8-7, in the semifinals.
"When you're a student-athlete this is such a journey and our kids owned their journey today," Marshall head coach Shonda Stanton said. "They went out there and they battled."
Marshall beat Houston for the 2013 championship, 3-1, in Tulsa, Okla. In the 2012 championship Tulsa nipped Marshall, 3-2, in Birmingham, Ala.
This time, at FAU Softball Stadium, the seventh-seeded Thundering Herd (28-30) will face No. 1 seed Tulsa (49-7) at noon Saturday in a nationally televised game on the CBS Sports Network, which is Ch. 721 on Comcast Huntington cable.
"This is a group that started the season (with a) 6-18 record," Stanton said. "We finished the regular season 20-12. We told them all year in that journey if you're strong enough all you have to do is fight and claw and get to the championship game.
"You just have to be great for three days in May. We've been great for two days."
Kaelynn Greene got Marshall's winning rally going in the eighth inning with a bunt single. Shaelynn Braxton followed with a single and Savanah Webster walked to load the bases and set up Escareno.
Jordan Dixon started in the Marshall pitching circle and went 6.2 innings. Lindsey Fadnek came from the bullpen to pitch in the bottom of the sixth inning and finished.
Fadnek put the Pirates down in order in the bottom of the eighth inning.
"I am so incredibly proud of this group," Stanton said. "They expected victory today and they got after it. Now we're playing in back-to-back-to-back championship games and for this group it's not just about getting there -- it's about going out and winning championships."
Marshall jumped on top in the first inning, 6-0. Six hits in the inning included Shaelynn Braxton's 16th home run of the season, a two-run shot to left field; run-scoring singles by Taylor Winton and Kristina Braxton; and Morgan Zerkle's two singles.
But, the big lead wasn't enough.
"We knew with seven seniors in East Carolina's dugout, all of them in the lineup, we knew it would be a battle," Stanton said. "They get 6-2, they get 6-3, we're up 7-3 then we go ahead 7-4 then they tie it 7-7. Our kids continued to fight.
"When you look at the boxscore whenever we needed something we got it. You're never winning or losing until you do and you can never play to the scoreboard."
Marshall's 14 hits included Shaelynn Braxton going 3-for-4 and Zerkle 3-for-5. Shaelynn Braxton also had three runs batted in. Zerkle, a freshman from Milton, had her school-record 47th stolen base of the season.
The Herd left 11 base runners stranded.
East Carolina starting pitcher Caroline Umphlett was replaced after facing only two batters. Zerkle led off the game with a single, Greene walked and Umphlett uncorked three wild pitchers before Sarah Christian entered in relief. Christian took the loss after allowing 13 hits and six runs.
The sixth-seeded Pirates (28-20) had 14 hits and left 12 runners on base. Shelby Johnson had four hits and Kristi Oshiro drove in three runs.
Tulsa moved into the finals with a 7-1 defeat of fifth-seeded North Texas.
C-USA Pitcher of the Year Aimee Creger worked the first six innings for the Golden Hurricane, allowing three hits and one run while improving her record to 26-1.
Creger beat Marshall twice in a March 15-16 series at Dot Hicks Field when Tulsa swept a three-game series.
Erica Sampson provided the bulk of Tulsa's offense against North Texas (31-22) with an RBI double in the first inning and a solo homer in the sixth inning.
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