WVU Rises From Near-Dead, Eliminates Maryland
By: Kevin Kinder
For all intents and purposes, this one looked over. West Virginia yielded four early runs to Maryland, and with just two hits and no runs through six innings, the Terps’ 4-0 lead looked all but insurmountable. However, a seemingly innocent run in the sixth, followed by more outbursts in the seventh and eighth, prolonged the Mountaineers stay in the 2017 NCAA Baseball Tournament for at least a few more hours.
The Mountaineers’ 8-5 win was sparked by an unexpected resurrection of the offense, buttressed by an outstanding outing from relief pitcher Jackson Sigman. With a total of seven runs and ten hits over the last three innings, WVU battered five Terp relief pitchers. Meanwhile, Sigman was nearly flawless, with only a sketchy ninth inning marring his 4.2 innings of relief work.
“He was really good early in the season,” WVU head coach Randy Mazey said of Sigman. “Then he hit a spell in which he gave up more home runs. He went back in the bullpen and made a mechanical adjustment of all things. If you make a mechanical adjustment, with sidearmers it can really make a difference even if it’s just one adjustment. So he did that and he got hot. Then he got cold again. He wasn’t all that great in the conference tournament but we watched some video and he went back to that same adjustment and today he was really good again.”
The Terps took an early 1-0 lead when Marty Costes, who was initially down 0-2 in the count, turned on a 3-2 offering from WVU starter Kade Strowd and drove it out to left centerfield. Riding a wind that it didn’t really need, the ball easily cleared the wall and decorative trees beyond.
One inning later, Maryland again produced with two strikes, as Brandon Gum doubled to the base of the wall that Costes had cleared to drive in a single run, putting the score at 2-0. In the bottom of the fifth, Gum struck again, snaking a fly ball down the left field line for a 320-foot homer that doubled the lead to 4-0.
WVU starting pitcher Kade Strowd battled through 4.1 innings, but was undone by the three big hits. He was twice helped by nice plays in right field from Darius Hill and with a 4-6-3 double play in which second baseman Kyle Gray backhanded the ball and flipped it without taking it out of the glove to shortstop Jimmy Galusky, who completed the turn for the twin killing. Facing a Maryland lineup that was in full take mode at the plate, he was unable to capitalize on some early advantages in the count, and departed after throwing 94 pitches in just 4.1 innings. Three of his five hits allowed were for extra bases, including the two home runs.
After starting nicely with three first inning runs on Saturday, WVU bats lost all of their ping until the top of the seventh on Sunday. With just five hits over the 14 innings since that initial frame, the Mountaineers managed to plate just one run — and that came on a passed ball and a three hop groundout which the Terps gladly traded for an out in the bottom of the sixth.
Still, one inning later, the Mountaineers rallied again. This time, though, a pair of tactical decisions went against them. With one runner on, one in and one out, designated hitter Kevin Brophy singled down the line. The hit would have been a double in most instances, but Brophy didn’t get a good turn around first and was held up. Head coach Randy Mazey eschewed a pinch runner at that point, and when Kyle Gray doubled to right, Brophy had no chance to score from first.
At that point, Mazey did elect to use TJ Lake to pinch run for Brophy, but then decided to go for broke with a suicide squeeze with Ivan Rodriguez at the plate. Rodriguez missed on the bunt attempt, hanging Lake off third for the big second out. The pitch was a badly thrown wild one that nearly went to the backstop, but Maryland catcher Justin Morris was able to track it down and run Lake down for the second out. Gonzalez then flied out, leaving WVU still trailing 4-3.
All that was washed away, however, as West Virginia continued to pound the ball. Now deep into the Maryland bullpen (three pitchers in the seventh and eighth), the top of the eighth saw WVU collect four hits and three walks, good for four runs and a 7-4 lead. Jackson Cramer had an opposite-field double to left center, and Braden Zarbnisky snaked a single through the right side to push the Mountaineers ahead.
At that point, in addition to the pitching staff, Maryland’s defense began to crumble. A Jimmy Galusky single through the left side pushed Kyle Davis around third and toward home. The throw was on line and appeared to at least have a chance of beating Davis to the plate, but it was cut off, allowing him a celebratory slide into home. Next, two consecutive walks pushed in another run, and the Mountaineer lead to 7-4.
WVU added an insurance run in the ninth when Zarbnisky grounded into a fielder’s choice to bring home Cramer, and that one definitely came into play when the Terps’ Nick Dunn led off the ninth with a solo homer, Maryland’s third of the game, to cut the lead to 8-5. Pinch hitter Madison Nickens singled and Zach Jancarski doubled to center when defensive replacement Brandon White broke the wrong way on the hit, bringing the tying run to the plate. However, Sigman struck out AJ Lee and Gum to end the game.
West Virginia faces Wake Forest late this afternoon, and must defeat the Deacons twice in order to advance to a super regional. An approaching storm and lightning at press time has the actual start time of the game in question.