Duke Be-Devils The Mountaineers
MORGANTOWN, W.Va.– Spills, thrills, reviews and ejections.
Saturday had it all, and each was a factor in West Virginia dropping a 4-0 decision to Duke at Monongalia Country Ballpark in the second round of the NCAA Regional Baseball Tournament.
“Tough game today,” said WVU assistant coach Steve Sabins, who was substituting in the postgame interview room for head coach Randy Mazey, who got the thumb after arguing an overturned call at the plate. “I thought we got a little outside of ourselves.”
The loss sends WVU (38-21) into the losers’ bracket, where it will play an elimination game against Texas A&M (38-22-1) Sunday at noon. The victor of that contest returns later Sunday at 6 p.m. to face the Blue Devils (33-25), who will have to be beaten twice to keep from advancing to the Super Regional for the second straight year.
The Mountaineers were confident entering Saturday’s game with a sellout crowd behind them and future first-round MLB Draft pick Alek Manoah taking the mound. The big righthander gave up just four hits in seven innings of work, but he also walked four and hit one in allowing four runs, all in the first three innings.
West Virginia got more hits than Duke – 6-4 – but it couldn’t push anything across the plate in being shut out for just the third time this season.
On the other side, Duke didn’t get a ton of hits, but all they did get were timely, and that was true from the outset.
After a couple quick outs in the bottom of the opening inning, Duke first baseman Matt Mervis pulled a double down the right field line. Michael Rothenberg then barreled up a Manoah fastball, sending it screaming to deep centerfield. WVU’s fleet-footed centerfielder Brandon White tried to chase down the long drive, but the ball glanced off his outstretched glove. White then went crashing head first into the base of the wall, and lay prone for several minutes.
Mervis easily scored and Rothenberg chugged all the way around to third before West Virginia rightfielder Darius Hill chased down the bounding ball and got it back into the infield. That only delayed the run, though, as the Blue Devil catcher raced home a short while later on a wild pitch.
During much of that sequence, all eyes in the ballpark were on White, who originally seemed to be knocked out. When the play came to an end, White was quickly surrounded by WVU’s medical personnel. The junior outfielder eventually rose unsteadily to his feet, and a cart was brought out apparently to take him off the field. But White talked his way into staying in the game, despite his scary collision with the wall.
“The Duke player really put a good charge into the ball,” explained Hill. “We were playing shallow because there were two strikes. It was an unfortunate the way Brandon hit the wall, but he’s a tough guy.
“He got up and said, ‘Aw, that hurt.’ But he stayed in the game and toughed it out. He hit the wall hard.
“When you see one of your teammates, one of your brothers, go down, it’s tough.”
The bottom of the third brought controversy. Manoah struck out two but also walked three along the way to load the bases. It appeared he was going to work his way out of the inning without any damage when he fielded a check-swing roller along the third base line and flipped home to catcher Ivan Gonzalez for an apparent force out. The Blue Devil runner from third, Joe Loperfido, slid home, and immediately turned to ask for a review, as the question was whether Gonzalez had touched the plate in fielding Manoah’s low throw. After a long official video replay, which was one of eventually three reviews in the inning, it was ruled that Gonzalez had actually not touched the plate; Loperfido’s run scored. WVU coach Randy Mazey vociferously argued the overturn, earning himself a quick ejection.
“I definitely thought it was an out,” stated Gonzalez. “I definitely thought I had the ball and had stepped on the plate. But the call didn’t go our way, and you have to keep moving forward. You can’t let one call determine the game for you.”
Duke added another run before the third was over, improving its lead to 4-0. That’s all the scoring the game would produce.
After giving up four runs, four hits and four walks through the first three innings, Manoah settled down and didn’t allow a Blue Devil base runner in the fourth or fifth. He battled his way through a little trouble in the sixth before giving way to the bullpen in the seventh. Dillon Meadows came on to replace Manoah and allowed no hits and only one walk in his two innings.
Manoah, who struck out nine Blue Devils, took the loss, setting his record at 9-4 on the season. Meanwhile Duke’s sophomore pitcher Bryce Jarvis (5-1) was outstanding. He scattered six hits over eight innings and walked just one while striking out 11. Thomas Girard came on for the Blue Devils in the ninth to get the save and complete the shutout for the visitors.
“He was mixing his pitches really well,” Hill said of Jarvis. “Most righthanded pitchers don’t have the change-up going effectively to both righthanded and lefthanded batters, but he had it going both ways today. It was really keeping us off balance.”
The game was played in front of a crowd of 4,258, which was the second largest in the five-year history of Mon County Ballpark. The only one bigger was the crowd of 4,355 that showed up Friday night to watch the first NCAA baseball tournament game played in Morgantown since 1955.
“The fans really brought the energy today, and that’s really been fun to be part of the last two days,” said Sabins. “I think we’re all realizing what West Virginia baseball can be. It was a blast to play the last two days. It didn’t go our way tonight, but we have an opportunity to go some more baseball tomorrow.”