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Herd Softball Says Strength Was in Stands

Nov. 11, 2013

By: Devaney Vazquez

Last season, the Marshall softball team’s secret weapon during postseason was not what most might have imagined.

It was not Andi Williamson in the circle. It was not the speed of Ashley Gue or Kaelynn Greene. It was not the throwing power of Jazmine Valle, nor the fielding of Alysia Hively. It was not the depth and power of the batting order, nor the smarts of Shonda Stanton and the coaching staff.

If you ask the Thundering Herd what its secret weapon was in the 2013 season that allowed it to make history, it was you, the fans.

It was those who drove the distance in one night to see the Herd win its first Conference USA title in Tulsa, Okla. It was those who filled buses, drove or flew to Lexington, Ky., to watch the Herd’s first regional appearance. It was those who watched or heard the live broadcast and cheered and cried when the team walked off the field for the last time in 2013.

You were the secret weapon.

“To have Marco, alumni and everyone there was a huge reason that we rallied so hard and fought as hard as we did,” senior outfielder Savanah Webster said. “It meant a lot to our team and it kept us going.”

Marshall, which was a No. 4 seed entering the C-USA Tournament, knocked out two opponents to earn its spot in the championship game. Both opponents, East Carolina and UAB, defeated the Herd in the regular season. UAB was the No. 1 seed and regular-season champ.

“We had people driving from Huntington to Tulsa, Okla., in one night just to be out there and watch our game, because they knew we could win,” sophomore utility player Shaelynn Braxton said. “They had that much faith in us.”

That faith and the roars in the stands motivated Marshall to upset No. 2 seed Houston, now an American Athletic Conference member, 3-1. Five Marshall squad members earned all-tournament team honors, including the tournament MVP, Williamson.

“The fans at Marshall are amazing,” sophomore catcher Katalin Lucas said. “They come out and support you, cheer you on and know you specifically by name.”

The entire team felt that support when it arrived back to the clubhouse at Dot Hicks Field at 3 a.m. after the conference victory.

The clubhouse was full of banners and signs of congratulations that staffers at Marshall and the community left for the team to see upon arrival. Among the familiar faces was David Steele, the associate director for administration and business, who welcomed the team with a congratulatory embrace.

At the watch party for the NCAA regional seeding, the team soaked in every moment that it shared with Marshall staff, the community and alumni who celebrated the C-USA title and anticipated the regional seeding with the squad.

In the midst of taking the field for its first regional game against regular-season foe Kentucky, the thunder of the fans was breathtaking.

“When I ran out to the outfield and looked at the stands, I got chills seeing all the people that were there,” Webster said.

“Thinking about how loud the ‘We Are … Marshall’ cheer was, makes the hair on the back of my neck stand,” Braxton said. “We had more fans than Kentucky and we were on their home turf.”

“Our fans were louder than any other fans there, and the energy was unreal,” said Lucas.

The Herd suffered a loss to the No. 1 seed in eight innings of action. The 2-1 loss came in a bases-loaded, walk-off hit situation that crushed Marshall’s spirit, but Herd football alumnus Chad Pennington – who lives in Versailles, Ky., not far from UK -- shared words of encouragement with the team that gave it a new attitude.

Marshall came out May 18 with a new confidence. The team beat Notre Dame and the Big East Player of the Year, pitcher Laura Winter, in a 3-1 contest.

In order to face Kentucky again -- this time in the championship game -- would have required Marshall to eliminate Virginia Tech in a 30-minute turnover.

The battle for the spot in the title game was grueling and went on for 13 innings, before a two-out, walk-off single gave the Hokies the 3-2 victory, ending the Herd’s memorable season.

The people there to help the six seniors and 14 underclassmen pick up their heads were the fans.

“After our losses we had people we did and didn’t recognize telling us how proud they were of this program and how much the community appreciated us,” Braxton said. “It brought tears to my eyes knowing that so many people had that much belief in us.”

The Herd would appreciate the same support in the 2014 season.

Although the team is young, every returnee is confident in the talent of the freshmen and the drive that each and every one of them have to achieve more and make a name for themselves in the program.

The freshmen have stepped up quickly and adapted well, according to Lucas.

“I expect us to do just as good, if not better, this season,” Webster said. “We got there, we won conference and went to regionals. I think the next step is winning regionals and going to super regionals.”

The 11 team’s returnees hope the fans will be there for every moment this season, showing the nine freshmen what it means to be a part of Thundering Herd Nation. 

This story was also featured in the Marshall vs. UAB football program, Nov. 8.