In the first upset of the 2021 Big 12 Championship, eighth-seeded West Virginia got a stellar pitching performance from Jackson Wolf in knocking off No.1 seed Texas 5-1 on Wednesday night.
Wolf outdueled Ty Madden, the Big 12 pitcher of the year, with a complete game 138-pitch performance in which he allowed just five hits while striking out seven. The lanky lefthander saved the best for last, fanning the side in the eighth and one in the ninth before his defense turned its second double play of the game to send the Longhorns into the loser’s bracket. It was Wolf’s sixth win of the year, while Madden took his fourth loss.
“I had a purpose for every single pitch I threw tonight. I’ve been sent back out for the eighth and ninth inning a couple of times, and I might think I have one hitter left,” said Wolf of his many previous strong outings which typically ended with a reliever coming on for the final outs. “I told myself after the last time that happened, if I were going to be sent back out late in the game, I was only going to be focusing on executing pitches. I told Coach Mazey after the eighth inning that I didn’t care what the pitch count was, that my body felt great, and I an really happy with how today turned out.”
“That’s the best I’ve ever seen him pitch,” head coach Randy Mazey stated emphatically, “the last three innings in particular. That’s not just Jackson Wolf at his finest, that’s any pitcher at his finest.
“Every time I thought about potentially taking him out, he would throw a pitch that was better than the one before. He’s pitching as good as he ever has in his entire career, you can’t take the guy out now.”
West Virginia staked Wolf to an early lead when Hudson Byorick turned on a 3-2 fastball and crushed it deep over the left field wall in the top of the second for a 1-0 lead. It added two more in the fifth when Alec Burns singled and Kevin Brophy doubled, followed by a Tyler Doanes sacrifice fly which scored Burns. Brophy, who also advanced on Doanes’ fly, was able to scamper home on a Tyler Madden wild pitch to to make the score 3-0.
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Wolf was dominant through five innings, but began to lose a bit of sharpness in the sixth. Eric Kennedy led off the bottom the frame with a solo home run to cut the WVU advantage to 3-1, and when Mike Antico followed with a walk the Longhorns looked to have a bigger rally cooking. However, WVU turned a huge double play to clean the bases, and Wolf induced a flyout to end the inning.
The Longhorns again put together a big threat in the seventh as Wolf topped the 100-pitch mark. Two singles and two walks should have produced a run, but WVU got a forceout in the middle of those four base-reaching plays, and picked off Cam Williams at second in a close play that was reviewed, but did not yield a clear enough view to be overturned. Then, with the bases loaded, Wolf got a pitch in on the hands of Kennedy, who lifted a low popup to the left side of the infield for the third out.
Wolf got a second wind in the bottom of the eighth, striking out the side after a swinging bunt put the speedy Antico aboard, and then got more support when Brophy blasted a triple to right center to score Alec Burns, who had walked to lead off the inning. Wolf struck out his fourth consecutive batter to start the ninth, and after a walk got the double play to end the game.
Brophy was 2-4 with a double, a triple, and a RBI, and scored two runs to lead WVU. The numbers of the night, though, belonged to Wolf, who held the powerful Horns to just five hits, four of them singles. More importantly, he kept all of his fellow pitchers in the bullpen, allowing WVU a few more options as it tries to put together a rotation for the rest of the week.
West Virginia evened its record at 25-25 for the season, but more importantly is 2-0 in the Big 12 Championship. The Mountaineers will be back on the field again Thursday at 8:30 p.m. ET against winner of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State in a game that can be seen on ESPN+.
Texas dropped to 40-14 and will face the loser of that contest at 1:30 p.m. on Thursday.
SEAMS AND BARRELS
The win was Wolf’s second of the week over Madden, as he also earned the decision in WVU’s 5-4 win over the Horns on May 20. The 138 pitches were the highest total of Wolf’s career. He threw 84 of them for strikes, and while he did walk five Texas batters, he did not hit any or throw any wild pitches.
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Brophy, meanwhile, scored twice on Texas wild deliveries from the mound, accounting for a pair of runs that helped keep the pressure on the Horns.
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“Oklahoma City is like a second home for us,” head coach Randy Mazey said of his program, which now holds a 15-12 record in the Big 12 postseason event. “For the Mountaineers to roll into Oklahoma and do what we have done over the past eight or nine years is impressive.”
So too is WVU’s performance against Texas under Mazey. Since joining the Big 12, the Mountaineers are now 15-10 against the traditional power, including a 2-2 mark this season.
“I think that’s credit to the Longhorns,” Mazey said when asked about his program’s success against a team all Mountaineer fans love to beat. “Texas is going to get everybody’s best bolt every time they take the field, and we’ve been fortunate to give them our best bolt since we’ve joined the Big 12. If we end up playing them again, they know that, and they know our pitching situation, and I guarantee we’re going to get their best bolt if we take the field together again.”
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A win on Thursday would give WVU a huge day off on Friday, allowing more rest time for its pitchers. Mazey joked that he would start Jackson Wolf again in Thursday’s game, but declined to identify who will actually get the ball.