Mountaineer Baseball Team Sweeps Western Kentucky
The West Virginia University baseball team completed a three-game sweep of Western Kentucky with a 7-1 victory on Sunday afternoon in Bowling Green, Kentucky.
A day after clinching the series with an 11-9 win yesterday at Nick Denes Field, the Mountaineers (5-5) scored seven runs on nine hits in a variety of ways, beginning with a first-inning run. WVU scored two runs on a passed ball, one on a wild pitch and two on an error to go along with a home run by junior second baseman Kyle Gray. West Virginia scored three unearned runs, all in the first four innings.
The WVU pitching staff, led by sophomore right-handed starter Kade Strowd, limited the Hilltoppers (5-7) to one run on six hits. The one run allowed is a season-low for the Mountaineers, while the six hits given up is one shy of a season low.
“It’s easy to come out and not play hard on Sunday after you’ve won the first two games, but we set the tone early with a run in the first inning,” WVU coach Randy Mazey said. “Darius (Hill) put a good swing on the ball (in the first inning). That’s what you have to do on Sundays, come out and take the energy and put it in our dugout to start game three.”
West Virginia has won three in a row and earned its first season sweep of the year. After a pair of two-run wins to begin the series at WKU, WVU had its largest margin of victory of the season in Sunday’s finale.
“We really needed to come down here and do this this weekend to give us some confidence,” Mazey added. “It makes the bus ride home a lot better. I think we’ll take this confidence into next weekend and I think we’ll keep playing well.”
Gray was one of three West Virginia batters with two hits, including his fourth home run of the season and third in the last two games in the ninth inning. Junior right fielder Darius Hill also added a pair of hits and an RBI, driving in a first-inning run with a double.
Strowd earned his first win of the year and allowed one run on four hits with four strikeouts and two walks in 5.2 innings. The bullpen followed with 3.1 innings and did not allow a run on just two hits.
The Mountaineers scored first for the third time this weekend, and took a first-inning lead for the second consecutive game. Junior catcher Ivan Gonzalez reached on catcher’s interference with one out, and scored on a double by Hill to give WVU a 1-0 lead.
After Strowd stranded a pair of baserunners in the second and pitched a 1-2-3 third, West Virginia added three runs in the fourth to extend its lead to 4-0. With runners on the corners and no outs, a passed ball scored junior third baseman Andrew Zitel. A double steal followed, as sophomore first baseman Kevin Brophy took third and junior shortstop Jimmy Galusky stole second. They both scored when sophomore center fielder Brandon White reached on an error by the WKU third baseman with two outs.
The Hilltoppers scored their only run in the bottom half of the fourth to make it 4-1 on a sacrifice fly that followed a leadoff double.
However, West Virginia answered right back with a run in the top of the fifth to extend its lead back to four, at 5-1. Hill doubled with one out and advanced to third on a Zitel single before scoring on a Brophy sacrifice fly. Zitel’s single extended his team-high and career-long hitting streak to seven consecutive games.
Strowd stranded another two runners in the sixth, before he was relieved by sophomore righty Cody Wood with two outs and one on in the sixth. Wood got a popup in foul territory to end the inning, and got a groundout to start the seventh. The next two runners reached, and senior right-hander Shane Ennis relieved Wood to get the last two outs of the frame and leave another two runners on base.
Ennis benefited from a trio of nice defensive plays in the eighth, as Hill made a jumping catch on the warning track in right and Gray snared a hard-hit line drive. After a two-out single, Gray made a diving stop on a ground ball up the middle, ending the inning with a quick flip to Galusky to get the force at second.
WVU added a pair of insurance runs in the ninth, beginning with Gray’s solo home run with one out. With the bases loaded after a single and back-to-back walks, a wild pitch scored the second run to extend the West Virginia lead to 7-1.
Sophomore righty Sam Kessler pitched the ninth inning. While he did not earn the save, he has been on the mound for the final outs of four of WVU’s five wins.
The Mountaineers begin a five-game stretch in Tennessee with a weekend series at Middle Tennessee State from March 9-11. The series begins on Friday, March 9, at 7 p.m. ET. First pitch on Saturday, March 10, is set for 5 p.m., while the finale will be on Sunday, March 11, at 2 p.m.
NOTES: West Virginia improved to 5-5 on the season and has won three in a row … WVU is 3-0 all-time vs. Western Kentucky … Starter Kade Strowd earned the win and is 1-1 on the season … Strowd pitched 5.2 innings and allowed one run on four hits with four strikeouts and two walks … With a fifth-inning single, Andrew Zitel extended his career-long and team-best hitting streak to seven consecutive games … Brandon White extended his reached-base streak to 11 consecutive games, dating back to last season, and has reached base in all 10 games to start the season … Ivan Gonzalez extended his hitting streak to six consecutive games … Braden Zarbnisky had his second consecutive multi-hit game and 19th of his career … Kyle Gray hit his third home run in the last two games in the ninth inning, his fourth of the season and seventh of his career.