BOGACZYK: Fajardo's Dive Makes Big Splash for Herd
The Word on the Herd-May 8, 2015
By JACK BOGACZYK
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The Marshall diving team's season ended nearly three months ago, but you'd never have known that on a sunny, steamy Friday afternoon at Appalachian Power Park.
With the baseball Herd in need of wins to climb in its bid to reach the eight-team Conference USA Tournament, Coach Jeff Waggoner's club dived back into the race a bit by eking out a 3-2 series-opening victory over Western Kentucky.
Right fielder Robert "Boobie" Fajardo made a forward diving catch in the second inning to aid Herd starter Chase Boster (6-1), and then shortstop Sergio Leon turned a bad base-running move into a triple with an aggressive dive into third base in the fourth ... eventually scoring what would be the deciding run.
However, Fajardo saved the best -- "the best catch I've ever made," he said -- for the seventh inning, snuffing out a potential game-leading WKU rally as he made a stretching, diving grab of Danny Hudzina's drive down the line that was tailing away from the Herd fly chaser.
WKU (23-25, 9-16 C-USA) had runners on first and second with two outs after Boster intentionally walked `Toppers' leadoff man Anderson Miller. And when Hudzina lifted one toward the right field line, it looked like Marshall's 3-2 edge was in serious trouble.
The 6-foot Fajardo made a game-saving play ... and considering the Herd hopes of reaching the May 20-24 C-USA Tournament, it might have been a season saver, too.
After a long run, the redshirt junior from Miami dived as the ball was sinking toward earth and tailing toward the foul line. Fajardo outstretched his left arm and gloved the ball as he slid, side-first, onto the grass between the fair and foul warning tracks.
The ball nearly snow-coned on him as he headed to the ground, too.
"I was playing him straight-away," Fajardo said after the Herd (17-30, 9-16) made four hits enough to win. "I knew it was up there, so I knew I had a chance at it. I put my head down ... I saw it, then put my head down, took a couple of steps, then saw it again.
"And I realized it was tailing away from me. I knew if I was going to catch it, I wasn't going to have to make a diving catch. I never hesitated. I couldn't if I wanted to catch it."
"This one's definitely up there, a game-saving catch, men on second and first. It's a big catch, and I had to make it because my pitcher's out there busting his butt, so I'm going to make a play for him."
Boster continued his strong series-opening Friday mound work. The junior went 7 1/3 innings, spacing seven hits and allowing two runs, one earned. He fanned five and his only walk was the intentional one to Miller.
Southpaw Caleb Ross and righty redshirt senior Kolin Stanley finished, the latter getting his second career save.
Offensively, the Herd's only hit after the fourth inning was Corey Bird's one-out bunt in the eighth, but he was erased on a steal attempt. That hit in the fourth, however, was Leon's triple.
On the drive down the line in right, Leon headed for third, where the ball arrived about 20 feet ahead of the Herd senior. He dived through the air at Hudzina's tag ... and the ball flew out when the WKU third baseman's glove came off.
Leon then scored on a wild pitch by Hilltopper starter and tough-luck loser John Harman (4-4).
The Herd's first two runs came in the first after WKU had taken a 1-0 lead. Designated hitter Andrew Dundon's two-out single down the line in right scored Bird, who had led off with a double, and TJ Diffenderfer, who had walked.
Dundon, a senior who played third earlier in the season, was back in the lineup for only his second game after being benched for 11 games as Waggoner looked for more power and run production.
Seniors Leon and Dundon and fourth-year junior Fajardo came up big for the Herd, which needs its veterans to show the way if it is to climb into the C-USA bracket in Hattiesburg, Miss.
"The younger guys look up to us and if they see us go out there and have success and play hard, they know they can do it, too," Fajardo said. "We're playing hard, playing together right now."
As for Fajardo and his crucial catch, also consider it's his first season as a right fielder at any level of baseball. He's there because Cory Garrastazu, the regular in right last season -- is sitting out 2015 after injury and surgery. So, Fajardo moved from left.
He made only two putouts Friday, but both were highlight-reel deals for a guy who got his nickname at La Salle High in Miami. This season at his new position, he has 86 putouts, two assists ... and no errors.
"Honestly it comes down to practice," Fajardo said of dealing with slicing flies and drives as he did in a crisp game that was played in 2:09. "We did it all fall all spring, and the only difference is right is the way the ball tails on you. This is the tough one, a righty hitter, the ball's going to tail away from me."
Fajardo is hitting .274, but said "defense is bigger to me because defense wins championship. It's like Coach (Josh) Newman (pitching coach) says all the time: `You don't go into a slump when you play defense.'"
The Herd started the day one victory in the C-USA standings out of eighth place. It's a wild scramble from sixth through 11th place as Marshall and WKU play Game 2 of the series Saturday at 1 at the Charleston yard.
"I wasn't going to let in bounce, play it safe," Fajardo said when told if he didn't match the catch, the Hilltoppers were looking at a two-run triple at least. "They'd have scored at least one run (if he had pulled up). We needed that out. It ended the threat and the inning.
"It's the best catch I've made. It got us a win, and that's we need to get into the tournament."