Chuck Landon: Marshall's ace opens clean slate vs. Pirates
Fate must have played softball when she was a girl.
How else can this Marshall vs. East Carolina scenario in the Conference USA Tournament be explained?
It all began when Marshall's ace pitcher, Andi Williamson, was sidelined because of a concussion when the Pirates came to town for a three-game series on April 13-14 at Dot Hicks Field.
The results were disastrous.
East Carolina swept the series with 11-1, 17-6 and 10-4 victories, feasting on the Andi-less Herd pitching for 38 runs.
At the time, the freak injury to Williamson during a 4-3 loss to the University of Kentucky seemed like it couldn't have been timed any worse.
"The ball got away and the catcher had her back to second base to go get it," remembered Shonda Stanton, Marshall's head coach. "She did what she was supposed to do and came up firing and fired right in line.
"Andi was looking at the catcher and, then, turned to pick up the runner and the throw just hit her right in the back of the head."
The impact knocked Williamson unconscious.
"I was looking at second base and it got me square in the back of the head," said Williamson. "It knocked me completely out. ... knocked me cold.
"Then, I missed five games with the concussion."
That led to East Carolina's sweep. But guess what else it created? A very big advantage for fourth-seeded Marshall when Williamson pitches against No. 5 East Carolina at 8 p.m., Thursday, in the C-USA Tournament at the University of Tulsa's Collins Family Softball Complex in Tulsa, Okla.
"They haven't seen Andi," said Stanton with a crafty grin. "What a luxury that is. All the other teams we're going to face have seen her three times. But East Carolina has not seen her this year.
"So, that's huge."
Ah, the fickleness of fate.
At the time, it seemed like Williamson's concussion was just plain bad luck. But, now, the injury proves to be downright fortuitous.
Talk about a silver lining.
East Carolina is in the uncomfortable position of facing the best pitcher in C-USA for the first time this season. So, the Pirates haven't seen Williamson's wicked riser. They haven't tried to get around on a fastball with heavy movement, which has helped produce 332 strikeouts this season. They haven't tried to time her knee-buckling changeup.
The latter pitch is particularly a problem.
"Oh, absolutely," said Stanton. "And that's what has made her so hard to hit. When that changeup is on, it is so dirty. What I love about it is Coach B (pitching coach Chelsea Barclay) will call it on a full count.
"We were at Houston, full count with runners on second and third and she called the change. Andi committed to the pitch and, obviously, it's all Andi at that point. And she let it rip.
"Even if you know it's coming, it's difficult. When her pitch is on, you're not going to hit it."
That is what East Carolina will face.
"That's nice," said Williamson. "I like pitching against a team for the first time because they really don't know what to expect. It's a relief to go against a team I haven't gotten to play against yet.
"Our team wants revenge against them anyway. They beat us three times at home. We're ready to play."
Particularly since fate has dealt MU an advantage.
Hmmm, fate on the mound and destiny behind the plate.
What a battery.
Chuck Landon is a sports columnist for The Herald-Dispatch. Contact him at 304-526-2827 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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