WVU Wins Third Straight With Illig Walk-Off Hit
West Virginia matched its longest winning streak of the season on Tuesday evening when sophomore designated hitter Chase Illig hit a game-winning single in the 10th inning as the West Virginia University baseball team walked off against Penn State by the score of 3-2 at PNC Park in Pittsburgh.
Playing at the home of the Pittsburgh Pirates for the second consecutive season, the Mountaineers (14-15) improved to 2-0 at the ballpark. Illig also was responsible for the game-winning hit in last year’s 4-2 win, which came in the fourth inning.
Tuesday’s 10th-inning hit came after the Nittany Lions (7-19) tied the game in the ninth inning with two outs. Illig’s heroics, with two outs, scored junior right fielder Darius Hill.
“Walk-offs are the most exciting part of baseball,” WVU coach Randy Mazey said. “So, that’s good for us to experience that and for the fans to see it. We just have to find a way to start playing better.”
WVU scored two runs in the first before PSU tallied one in the third and another in the ninth to tie it at 2-2.
In the 10th, sophomore right-handed reliever Sam Kessler got a groundout to strand the bases loaded in the top half. Hill led off the bottom half with a single and was sacrifice bunted to second. An intentional walk and pop-up followed, to set up Illig.
“You can kind of tell when he’s standing up there, the way he takes pitches,” Mazey said of Illig. “He was pretty calm up there. He got a good one to hit and he hit it just foul. They were playing super shallow, trying to throw a runner out at the plate. He just managed to find a gap, but when you do that a couple times, the last two games he’s played, he’s gotten really big hits late in the game. You’ll start getting a little confidence in that situation and that’ll carry forward.”
Kessler earned the win, improving to 2-0 on the season. In 1.1 innings, he allowed no runs on three hits with three strikeouts and a walk.
Freshman left-handed starter Jackson Wolf pitched well in his second career start. In 5.0 innings, he allowed one run on three hits with a career-high five strikeouts and one walk.
Hill led the Mountaineers with two hits, had an RBI and scored two runs.
Wolf got a double play and a strikeout to end the first inning after the first two batters of the game reached. The Mountaineer offense answered right back with a pair of runs in the bottom of the first. Junior left fielder Braden Zarbnisky led off the inning with a walk and advanced to third on a single. He scored when Hill reached on a fielder’s choice to put WVU ahead, 1-0. Two batters later, with Hill on second, junior third baseman Andrew Zitel singled to right, which scored Hill.
Penn State cut into the lead with a two-out solo home run in the third to make it 2-1.
Wolf proceeded to retire the next seven batters he faced, with a strikeout in the fourth and another in the fifth.
Meanwhile, WVU left one on in the fourth and two in the fifth.
Senior right-hander BJ Myers relieved Wolf in the sixth. He hit the first batter he faced and gave up a one-out single, but got a 4-3 groundout to end the inning. Then, Myers stranded one in the seventh. He followed with a 1-2-3 eighth inning, with the help of a fine catch by Zarbnisky, who tracked down the out in deep left-center.
The Mountaineers got their first hit since the third inning in the eighth, when junior second baseman Kyle Gray singled down the right-field line to put runners on the corners with one out.
PSU tied the game in the ninth inning on an unearned run. With two outs, a runner on second and Kessler in for Myers, a throwing error on a ground ball allowed the tying run to score.
In 3.2 innings, Myers allowed one unearned run on one hit with four strikeouts and a walk.
After a 1-2-3 bottom of the ninth, the Mountaineers went to extra innings for the third time this season.
West Virginia returns home to face Pitt tomorrow, April 11, at 6 p.m. at Monongalia County Ballpark. Tickets for the Backyard Brawl are available at WVUGAME.com, by calling 1-800-WVU GAME, at the Mountaineer Ticket Office at the WVU Coliseum or on game day at Monongalia County Ballpark. Tickets to the originally-scheduled game, on March 27, will be good for the rescheduled game on April 11. The first 200 fans will receive a free fleece blanket, and all fans can play Baseball Bingo.
NOTES: West Virginia improves to 14-15 and 2-2 at a neutral site … WVU improves to 2-0 at PNC Park, with a 4-2 win over Penn State last year to go along with tonight’s victory … The Mountaineers have won three in a row and four of their last five … Tonight is WVU’s third walk-off win of the season … Chase Illigdrove in his team-leading fourth game-winning run of the season … Starter Jackson Wolf pitched 5.0 innings and allowed one run on three hits with a career-high five strikeouts with one walk … Sam Kessler improved to 2-0 with 1.1 innings in relief, allowing no runs on three hits with three strikeouts and a walk.