MCGILL: Like '13, @HerdSB Hopes NCAA Atmosphere Is `Electric'
The Word on the Herd -- May 18, 2017
By Chuck McGill
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - Four years ago this week, during the Marshall softball program's last trip to the University of Kentucky to play in the NCAA tournament, the Thundering Herd players were greeted with a cascade of cheers from the seats inside UK's home stadium.
"We are!" the players heard as the familiar chant reached the field. "Marshall!"
There were four teams in that regional, but the stadium had a staggering amount of green and white. The players noticed. They were moved. Some were on the verge of tears as the "We are ..." cheer grew louder and the gravity of the moment sank in.
Marshall will play in another NCAA softball regional in Lexington, Kentucky, this Friday (noon vs. Illinois on ESPN2) for a three-day double-elimination tournament that could lead the Thundering Herd into next week's super regionals. The players, coaches, support staff and athletic department would love to see a replay of 2013 in the stands this weekend.
"The one thing I have vivid memories of there was nothing like our fan support," Marshall coach Shonda Stanton said. "(Marshall football great) Chad Pennington was there. We had a pregame BBQ. President (Stephen) Kopp was there. Our administration was there. Our fans were out tailgating. Our kids got off the bus and everybody was yelling `We are!'
"Then, you're in the game, you look up in the stands and over half are in green and white."
Marshall senior third baseman Shaelynn Braxton was a member of that 2013 team. The Herd played Kentucky, Notre Dame and Virginia Tech, losing in extra innings to the Wildcats and Hokies and beating the Irish.
"It is so special for us to go back to Kentucky and play," Braxton said. "To know the type of crowd that we have and the way we know they will travel.
"It is something I dream about. I have chills just thinking about 2013 and hearing the cheer and when it starts and you have both sides going. It seemed like it was louder than at our football games at Marshall."
Scott Hall is an associate sports information director at Marshall and handles radio play-by-play responsibilities for MU softball games. The atmosphere for those three NCAA regional games - long before first pitch - was nothing like he had ever seen.
"As we're going to the stadium you see all of the green and white that was already there," he said. "As the game is actually about to start you see all of these people filing in and we're playing Kentucky, the host school, and it looks like we have more fans than they do. That was stunning.
"We knew we were going to have a good amount of people there, but we didn't know it was going to be like that. One whole side of the stadium was green and white, with more green mixed in with the Kentucky fans."
Hall recalled Jessica Williams, a former Marshall softball player, being the most vocal in leading the fans in cheers. He was working in the press box that day alongside James Collier, and at times felt compelled to let the moment stand on its own.
"A couple times during the games, whenever they got the `We Are Marshall' cheer going, we would pretty much stop talking, turn up the crowd mic and let that roll over the broadcast," Hall said.
Marshall Director of Athletics Mike Hamrick made the 128-mile trip from Huntington to Lexington for the games, and will do so again this weekend.
"The atmosphere for the softball games in 2013 was stunning, and it is a credit to the fans who support our student-athletes," Hamrick said. "It was electric. I mean ... electric. I've never seen a softball game with that kind of atmosphere, and it really blew me away."
The players, too. Few student-athletes get an opportunity to step on the NCAA tournament stage, and Marshall enters this year's NCAA regional with a 41-10 record, as the regular season Conference USA champion and as an at-large entrant into the field. Kentucky is the host and will open with DePaul on Friday at 2:30 p.m. (ESPN3).
No matter what transpires from Friday through Sunday, the memories will linger forever with the players and coaching staff. More than the outcomes, the clutch hits and the timely pitches, it is Marshall's passionate fan base who, with their support, can leave a lasting impact on the Herd's experience this weekend in Lexington.
"The players loved it in 2013," Hall said. "That was one of the main things they kept talking about. When we'd get back together after the game on the bus, even though we had just lost to Kentucky in a close game in extra innings, we lost it and so many of them were going, `My goodness, I didn't know there were going to be that many people there. That was incredible.'
"And then we get to the next day, and there were so many people who came back. They were still there and still fired up, and the players absolutely loved that."