Hill, Mountaineers Enjoy Senior Day Onslaught
MORGANTOWN, W.Va.–West Virginia’s three senior positions players – outfielder Darius Hill, catcher Ivan Gonzalez and infielder Andrew Zitel – helped stake WVU to a 13-2 lead over George Washington in the regular season finale Saturday afternoon at Monongalia County Ballpark.
As the team took a few warm-up throws heading into the top of the ninth, WVU manager Randy Mazey strode towards the mound and motioned all the Mountaineers on the field to join him. They grouped together and hugged their three seniors and sent them off to a standing ovation before the 2,631 in attendance.
“It didn’t really hit me until I walked across the line and saw all my teammates waiting for me,” said Gonzalez, who admitted shedding a few tears once he got into dugout. “There are a lot of emotions, a lot of memories, a lot of good times. It all just hits you in the head.”
It was a senior day to remember on a sun-splashed Saturday, as West Virginia improved to 34-18 with the 13-2 non-conference victory over GW (30-24). WVU now heads to the Big 12 Championship in Oklahoma City, which starts Wednesday and runs through Sunday.
Gonzalez was again nearly flawless behind the plate, helping WVU’s five pitchers limit the Colonials to seven hits while striking out 10 and walking only two.
Zitel came off the bench to go 1-for-3 with a home run, his third of the year.
The biggest star of the day, though, senior or otherwise, was Hill, who finished 4-for-4 with two walks, two runs scored, two doubles, a home run and five RBIs. The senior from Dallas entered his final at-bat in the bottom of the eighth already having recorded a single, a double and a home run. All he needed for the cycle was a triple, and when his line drive initially seemed headed for the gap, he thought he had a chance.
“I knew what was at stake,” admitted Hill, “but when I saw the centerfielder cut it off, I was like, ‘Awwww, shut it down.’ It would have been cool, obviously, but oh well.
“It was pretty special senior day,” added the senior rightfielder. “What more could you have wanted? We got the win, and I had a good day at the plate. It was awesome.”
WVU jumped on top early.
A bloop and a couple of near blasts helped stake West Virginia to a 4-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning. West Virginia had three doubles in the inning, one of which should have been a routine pop fly in shallow center. Four Colonials surrounded the lazy looper by Hill, but none laid a mitt on it. Instead of an out, Hill got the easiest of his school career-record 76 doubles. In all, nine Mountaineer batters came to the plate in the bottom of the first, scoring four runs on two singles, three doubles and a hit by pitch.
GW cut West Virginia’s lead in half in the fourth inning. Nate Fassnacht opened the frame with a single for the Colonials, and then Dom D’Alessandro crushed his team-leading 13th home run of the season to left field, slicing the Mountaineer advantage to 4-2.
Other than the home run, WVU starter Kade Strode only gave up three other hits in his four innings of work. With Friday night’s game against George Washington being cancelled, West Virginia coach Randy Mazey also wanted to give the scheduled starter of that contest, Jackson Wolf, time on the mound so everyone would remain in a groove heading into the postseason. So after the fourth inning, Wolf came on in relief. He allowed just two hits and no runs in two innings before yielding to Madison Jeffrey, who was followed in succession by Zach Reid and Sam Kessler. Those final three relievers allowed just one hit and no runs between them in working one inning each.
West Virginia padded its lead with one run in fifth, two more in both the sixth and seventh and finally four additional runs in the eighth to secure the 13-2 victory.
“For the seniors to go out the way they went out, for Darius to hit a home run and Zitel to hit a home run, then for them to leave and let the crowd acknowledge them for what they had done, I couldn’t have scripted it any better,” said an emotional Mazey.
West Virginia, ranked as high as 17th in the national polls this week, has won seven of its last eight games and looks to carry that momentum into the postseason. It will be the No. 4 seed in the upcoming Big 12 Championship in OKC and will play its first round game there on Wednesday. WVU also is looking further down the line, as it is basically a lock for a spot in the NCAA Tournament the following week.
“The Mountaineers are hot right now,” stated Gonzalez. “We’re focused on each pitch and each game, and we’ll see where it takes us.”