Chuck Landon: Marshall routs WVU, and how sweet it is
CHARLESTON -- Imagine the Hatfields & McCoys rekindling their, ahem, rivalry after 15 years of detente.
That's basically what Marshall and West Virginia University did here Tuesday evening in Appalachian Power Park.
So, the gloves were off?
Just the opposite.
Instead, the gloves were on for the first time in 15 years within West Virginia borders for the only two NCAA Division I baseball programs in the state.
When Marshall's dominating 8-0 win over WVU before 1,664 frozen fans had concluded, it was the first time since 1998 that the arch-rivals had squared off on Mountain State soil.
Britney Spears was smoking the charts with the sizzling, "... Baby One More Time." Marshall's football program was compiling a 12-1 record and beating Louisville in the Motor City Bowl. President Bill Clinton was telling Monica to send him the dry-cleaning bill.
And the Herd was losing to the Mountaineers, 12-11, here in old Watt Powell Park.
My oh my, how things have changed since then.
Marshall left the Mid-American Conference to join Conference USA. WVU abandoned the sinking ship once named the Big East to become a member of the Big 12. And never the twain shall meet.
Until Tuesday night, that is.
Talk about being worth the wait.
"This meant everything to our program," said Marshall starting pitcher Aaron Blair, after pitching six innings of brilliant no-hit, 11-strikeout baseball. "We hadn't beaten them in 15 years in the state."
Actually, it was longer than that.
The last time Marshall defeated WVU was back in 1991, as the Herd won, 6-3, in Morgantown. Since then, the Mountaineers had won eight straight on West Virginia soil and nine overall.
But WVU didn't face a pitcher like Blair during that span.
Marshall's 6-foot-5, 220-pound ace right-hander showed why 22 Major League Baseball scouts were in attendance Tuesday night. Blair also proved why he was being projected as a late first-round or early second-round selection in the MLB draft.
Before being lifted after throwing 105 pitches (62 strikes), Blair struck out 11 of the 24 batters he faced and didn't allow a single hit. In fact, the Mountaineers managed to hit the ball out of the infield only twice against Blair.
"Rhythm was the big thing," he said. "I felt stronger as I went along. I could have gone all the way."
Perhaps, but just getting the win -- especially this win -- was the prime objective.
"This was good for the state of West Virginia," said MU coach Jeff Waggoner, who lobbied diligently for seven years to bring this game to fruition. "It just needed to be played. When I was at N.C. State and Randy (first-year WVU coach Randy Mazey) was at East Carolina, we played each other. He understood this game needed to be played.
"Now, we have a chance to bring two big-time conferences into the state. Fans can watch Oklahoma and Texas from the Big 12 and Rice and Southern Miss from Conference USA.
Especially since the Marshall-WVU rivalry actually is going to be a three-game series this season. The two will square-off again on April 2 in Morgantown and, then, a neutral field finale in Beckley on May 14.
"This is only one of three," cautioned Waggoner.
But this one was worth the wait.
Chuck Landon is a sports columnist for The Herald-Dispatch. Contact him at 304-526-2827 or clandon@herald- dispatch.com.