Hitting Completes WVU Effort In Series Sweep of Kent State
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — On a day in which West Virginia’s pitching wasn’t quite what it had been in previous games — due in part to a howling wind blowing out to left field — the Mountaineers found another way to win. WVU’s bats, which began to awaken in the second game of Saturday’s doubleheader, broke out in a big way with two doubles and two home runs in a 9-7 win over similarly big-hitting Kent State on Sunday afternoon.
A rain front moved through the area overnight, but was pushed out quickly by strong winds. Those lingered, however, and at game time a steady 20 mph wind was blowing almost directly out to left field. That made any fly ball to that side of the diamond a potential home run, and caused a great deal of angst on shorter pop-ups, which fluttered almost as much as the flags and bunting around the yard.
The Golden Flashes had three home runs and the Mountaineers two, with all but one sailing over the left field wall. The lone outlier was that of WVU first baseman Kevin Brophy, who launched a monster shot against the wind over the 375 mark in right center. In a game full of big hits and lots of runs, that one gave the Mountaineers a lead they would not relinquish.
“It’s been a grind to get back,” said Brophy, a strapping lefty who underwent offseason back surgery and is just now starting to feel 100%. “It felt amazing to get back into my groove.”
Brophy was 2-3 on the day with five RBI, driving the ball deep into the outfield on all of his at bats. On the home run, though, he was actually thinking of a different approach.
“When I hit it, I thought it was gone off the bat. My thought was to put it in the opposite field gap, but I turned on it,” said the New Jersey native, who typically looks to drive the ball in the opposite direction. I was really happy when it went out.”
So too was head coach Randy Mazey, who has been waiting (and working for) his team’s bats to break out. Signs of that came in yesterday’s doubleheader, when WVU piled up 11 hits in game two, and continued on Sunday with nine, giving the Mountaineers confidence they can win games without a stellar pitching performance.
“We’ve been talking about that all year, but the offense just hasn’t been clicking,” he said in the bright afternoon sunshine, which brought a beautiful afternoon on which to play. “We’re getting indications it’s starting to happen. We have good hitters in the lineup.”
West Virginia also ratcheted up the pressure with its running game — another Mazey signature. The Mountaineers stole five bases, two by Austin Davis, who is now tied with Tyler Doanes for the team lead with seven. “Turning singles into doubles,” as Mazey terms it, also forces pitchers to alter their tactics to try to keep the baserunners tied down. That can lead to lack of concentration, as it did in WVU’s big sixth inning, which featured more than Brophy’s blast.
After Brophy cleared the bases, Tucker walked, then stole second. Thus unnerved, Kent State pitcher Luke Albright uncorked a wild pitch, allowing Tucker to advance easily to third. Behind him, Austin Davis walked and stole second, putting both Mountaineers in scoring position. They came home via an infield single and a sacrifice fly, giving WVU a four-run cushion in what had been a back-and-forth game.
The Mountaineers led off the scoring with solo runs in the second and third, with Doanes getting the first wind-rider of the day with a liner to left. Kent rallied with a pair of its own home runs to similar spots, giving them a 4-3 lead. Back came WVU however, again with solo runs in each of the next two innings courtesy of RBI doubles by Brophy and Doanes, but the Golden Flashes weren’t finished. They scored two more on a pair of sacrifice flies in the top of the sixth to bounce back in front five to four.
All of that served as preamble to West Virginia’s five-run sixth, but even that outburst wasn’t enough to seal the win. Kent State scored a pair of runs in the seventh on a two-run home run, and put two runners on in both the eighth and ninth innings before WVU relievers Beau Lowery and Sam Kessler, respectively, closed the door with no runs allowed.
Brophy had five RBI, preceding his big blast with a sacrifice fly and an RBI double. Ivan Gonzalez was 2-2 with two walks, parlaying his four times on base into three runs. Doanes was 3-4 with a walk, a run scored and three RBI.
WVU starter Kade Strowd allowed five earned runs on eight hits, throwing 103 pitches to 25 batters. Reliever Ryan Bergert, the beneficiary of West Virginia’s five-run seventh, got the win, the first of his WVU career, even while allowing two earned runs and three hits. Lowery got the big final two outs in the eight with two on, and Kessler, although yielding a pair of hits, kept the visitors in check while lowering his ERA to 0.90 on the season, earning his third save. Albright took the loss for Kent State.
With WVU in recess for spring break, the Mountaineers hit the road this week for a two-game series at Morehead State in Morehead, Kentucky, on Tuesday and Wed (March 12-13), followed by a three-game set at William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia on March 15-17.
TJ Lake is sporting an wrist brace, and could be out for a few days.
West Virginia bumped its RPI up to 40 after the weekend sweep.