Feb. 10, 2009

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Lape Leads Marshall Leap

By Andrew Finley



College baseball fans seldom have paid much attention to the Marshall Thundering Herd, but this season may change all that.


Despite not making the NCAA tournament since 1978 and posting a winning record since 1994 – Marshall won a total of 11 games in its first two years in Conference USA – things began to change in Huntington, W.Va., last year. For the first time in school history, Marshall won 30 games. The Herd also won 10 in the conference then nearly stole the conference tournament before losing to Houston in the championship game.


The Herd's star player was all-conference outfielder Nate Lape, who hit .388 with 17 homers, 17 doubles and 63 RBI. Lape was drafted in the 20th round by Colorado but chose to return to Marshall for his senior season. He enters 2009 on the Brooks Wallace Award Watch list, a Preseason All-American by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association and the Conference USA Preseason Player of the Year.


A New York state MVP in high school, Lape began his career at North Carolina. However, after getting just six at-bats as a freshman, he decided to transfer. Former North Carolina State assistant coach Jeff Waggoner recently had taken the Marshall job, and Lape decided to join him.


Lape had a solid but unspectacular sophomore year as he battled through injuries, then exploded as a junior.


“I think the biggest difference is having confidence, being healthy, doing more work in the cage,” Lape said. 


Added Waggoner: “I think he would have been playing at North Carolina within a year.”


Waggoner credited Lape's mental approach for the outfielder's improvement, adding that he has improved all aspects of his game. Lape stole 20 bases, committed three errors and drew 31 walks in 2008, all big improvements from his sophomore campaign.


“He can make adjustments quicker than anybody,” he said.


Lape played for Brewster in the Cape Cod League over the summer, but was limited by injury. Although he hit .222 in 54 at-bats, seven of his 12 hits were for extra bases. Lape feels getting some hits off the top talent in college baseball has improved his confidence and mental approach even more.


In addition to Lape, the Herd also features catcher Victor Gomez, a Freshman All-American last year, and Adam Yeager, who led the nation with 47 stolen bases in 2008. Waggoner believes his offense can compete with practically anybody, and with an improved pitching staff, it may be time for college baseball fans to learn more about Marshall.


(photos courtesy of Marshall Media Relations Office)