Call For Closer Set Up WVU Win
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — In the euphoria that grew out of Darius Hill’s dramatic walk-off home run to beat TCU on Sunday and salvage the final game of a series West Virginia could not afford to have swept from them, one key element of the victory — and the season — was overlooked.
That would be Sam Kessler’s job done in relief and, equally as important, coach Randy Mazey’s decision to go early with his closer, a decision that had as much to do with winning the game as did Hill’s homer and Kessler’s pitching.
Here is what had transpired to that point:
Starting pitcher Kade Strowd had taken the game into the sixth inning holding TCU’s big bats mostly in check, trailing 2-1 after the Horned Frogs had scored 20 runs in the first two games of the series, but he became unwound almost immediately there.
The Frogs’ Jake Guenther led off with a home run and then, after an out, TCU picked up two more runs on a pair of singles, a double, an intentional walk and a single.
Now the bases were loaded, one was out, and the TCU lead was at 4-1.
You can expect to have a chance to come back from 4-1 but it gets a whole lot tougher if you fall any further behind, so Mazey opted to bring in his closer at that point and worry about the late innings when they got there.
Kessler has been heroic all season. He’s 4-2 with seven saves but this may have been his biggest performance and he got neither a win nor a save.
He worked his way out of that bases-loaded, one-out jam, pitched two scoreless innings to get to the ninth, retired the leadoff batter there before giving up a second home run of the game to Guenther, then recorded a strikeout before turning the ball over to Zach Reid to get the final out.
Certainly, Mazey knew what he as doing, aware that sometimes you need to close out an opponent earlier than the ninth inning if you are going to win the game and aware that the 27th out, while Kessler’s specialty, would have been a tough one because he had pitched longer than he had all year.
One may wonder why Mazey was putting as much emphasis on this game as he did and the reason can be found in the RPI used for post-season play.
“You know the RPI,” he said. “Their (TCU’s) RPI hasn’t been good. You can see how good they are. They played almost flawlessly this weekend. This is as good a team as is on our schedule but their RPI is in the 90s. It’s a little flaw in the system, but you take a loss to a team in the 90s and you take a big hit.”
Especially if that loss is at home and even more so if it completes a sweep, so Mazey’s decision to used Kessler and his ability to rise to the occasion made the victory possible.