Marshall baseball

A Marshall player takes a swing at a West Virginia State pitch during a double-header in 2019. File photo/The Herald-Dispatch

Marshall’s baseball team is dodging the raindrops falling on Huntington — and should be able to dodge the Florida rain — for its season opener Friday evening. Yet it won’t be able to dodge the No. 4 team in the country sitting in the other dugout.

The Thundering Herd begins its 2020 season with a bang at 6:30 p.m. Friday, starting a three-game series with national powerhouse Florida in Gainesville. MU and UF will follow that Friday game with a 4 p.m. Saturday game and a 1 p.m. Sunday game.

The Gators are coming off a 2019 campaign where they finished 34-26 and ended their season in the NCAA regional round. SEC coaches picked UF to finish second in the conference’s Eastern Division and picked up three first-place votes in that preseason poll. Sophomore center fielder Jud Fabian was named to the All-SEC preseason second team.

Two national polls have the Gators ranked fourth to start the year: Baseball America and D1Baseball. Two more have Florida in their preseason top 10: NCBWA (No. 8) and the ESPN/USA Today coaches poll (No. 10).

Florida enters 2020 trying to improve its pitching performance. Last season’s 5.37 team earned run average was the second-worst in the conference and highest of Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan’s tenure. Right-handers Tommy Mace and Jack Leftwich will lead the weekend rotation.

The Herd finished last season at 29-28, Marshall’s first winning season since 2016. Yet it must replace a ton of offense. The top four batting averages from last season, the only four batters to finish the year above .300, are gone. Among the departed is 2019 All-Conference USA first team shortstop Elvis Peralta, who hit .357 with 15 doubles and a team-best nine home runs.

Junior infielder Geordon Blanton is the team’s top returning hitter after batting .286 with a team-best 17 doubles last season. The Herd also returns Conference USA All-Freshman pick Luke Edwards, who hit .260 with eight doubles and two home runs.

The Herd’s pitching staff also took a hit with the departure of All-C-USA second teamer Joshua Shapiro, whose team-leading 3.58 ERA was ninth-best in the conference. The pitchers returning with the most starting experience are Ryan Capuano — who went 1-3 with a 5.61 ERA over 15 appearances and 11 starts — and Wade Martin — who started all 10 games in which he appeared with an 0-4 record and 7.88 ERA. Martin is scheduled to start Friday’s game, with Brady Choban scheduled to start Saturday’s and Jeffrey Purnell scheduled to start Sunday’s.

Rain is in the Gainesville forecast Friday, but it should subside by the evening and leave the Herd and Gators with drier playing conditions.

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