Momentum Flipped In WVU Loss To Duke
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Within the span of 24 hours West Virginia’s 15th-seeded Mountaineers went from ecstasy to agony, dropping a 4-0 decision to Duke before another sellout crowd that was worked into a lather over the umpiring.
But as mad as the crowd of 4,258 at Mon County Ballpark was, it was not as mad as WVU coach Randy Mazey, who was ejected for the first time in four years by an umpiring crew that seemed to be taking the term “men in blue” as if it made them honorary members of the Blue Devils.
Mazey’s ejection came after a series of calls he disagreed with, the final one on a force play at the plate that seemed to end the fourth inning without Duke scoring. Losing pitcher Alek Manoah made a nice play on a two-out nubber down the third base line with the bases loaded and threw home.
The runner was ruled out, but Duke challenged and the play was overturned on what seemed to be inconclusive evidence, setting Mazey off. In fairness to the umpiring crew, the decision to overturn was not theirs to make but was made from a replay center in Pittsburgh.
Mazey was not at the post-game press conference.
West Virginia now slips into the loser’s bracket and has to play dangerous Texas A&M at noon today and, if they were to survive, they would have to come back at 6 p.m. to face Duke again.
If they lose to Duke, they are out and the Blue Devils move on to the Super Regional and if they win they will play Duke again for the Regional championship at 4 p.m. Monday.
The second straight sellout crowd was in a celebratory mood, and why not? A night earlier they had set an all-time home baseball attendance record while beating Fordham in the first NCAA Regional game held in Morgantown since 1955.
What’s more, the opponent on this night was Duke, not Texas A&M as expected, and they were facing the Blue Devils with arguably college baseball’s top pitcher, Alex Manoah, on the mound.
Certainly, there was a lot of pressure on Manoah, the baseball draft being held on Monday and him penciled in as a high first-round pick and a busload of major league scouts in the stands watching his every move.
He maintained that wasn’t on his mind.
“I don’t think about it until people talk to me about it,” he said this week. “I just stay in the moment. I truly believe there is nothing I can do to control the draft. Other people are out there setting up the draft.”
But Manoah is an emotional athlete and the worst thing you can do in an important game of baseball is get too hyped up.
“He just needs to be Alek,” Mazey said leading into the game. “The only time he hasn’t pitched well this year is when he tends to try to do more than he should. Adrenaline is great if it’s a football player trying to knock someone’s head off. In baseball, it doesn’t work that way. It leads to overswinging and overthrowing.”
But the way the evening worked out, there was no flow to the game at all with long delays for replays and injury and arguments and Manoah just wasn’t himself.
He gave up two runs in a first inning in which there was a near-disaster. With two out and no one on, Manoah gave up a double to Matt Mervis that was followed by a drive to deepest centerfield by Michael Rothenberg.
Centerfielder Brandon White tried to make another of his miracle, day saving catches but just as he got to the ball running full speed ahead he crashed neck and shoulder first into the centerfield, crumpling the ground.
He lay motionless on the warning track as first the trainer, then teammates, then the team doctor joined him out there. He slowly sat up as they brought a cart out and sent a replacement for him out onto the field, but White wasn’t about to leave this game.
He played catch briefly with Manoah and stunned everyone by staying on the field.
“He hit the wall hard. It’s never fun to hit that wall,” said right-fielder Darius Hill.
And what were his first words when Hill got to him.
“Oh, that hurt,” Hill said.
As the game went on, WVU’s bats were being silenced by right-hander Bryce Jarvis and his change-up. He allowed only six hits in eight innings, striking out 11 and walking only one.
Meanwhile, seemingly every close pitch, every checked swing, every close play went against the Mountaineers, riling up the fans and those in the WVU dugout.
Mazey had been chirping for a good part of the game and then things came undone in the third inning. Normally solid in his control, Manoah was out of sorts and walked the bases loaded while striking out two.
The game was at a turning point as Erikson Nichols hit a slow bouncer between the mound and the third base line. Manoah made a good play just getting to the ball, whirled and made an off-balance throw to the plate that short-hopped catcher Ivan Gonzalez.
Gonzalez made a nice grab of the ball for what seemed to be a force out and that was how it was called.
“I definitely thought I caught the ball and had my foot on the plate,” Gonzalez said.
it was a close play and Duke opted to challenge what seemed to be the lone play in the game that had gone WVU’s way … and after an endless delay, the umpires reversed themselves although the replay did not seem to be conclusive.
That’s when Mazey lost and was ejected.
After another long delay to argue, Chris Crabtree singled and the fourth run was home for Duke.
Manoah kept it at 4-0 until the seventh when he was relieved by Dillon Meadows, having allowed four runs on four hits with nine strikeouts and four walks and a pair of wild pitches.