Record Crowd Sees WVU Take Round One Of The Backyard Brawl
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — It started out like most any other mid-week non-conference game, but after a while the DNA of the Backyard Brawl exerted its influence. Pitt and West Virginia exchanged a pair of big innings, a Panther was ejected, a Mountaineer freshman pitcher came up big and WVU scored late to secure a 5-4 win over the visitors from the Steel City in round one of the 2019 baseball version of the brawl. ‘
All of that came in front of a WVU program record crowd of 3,487 who packed Monongalia County Ballpark on a sunny, 60-degree day. Those that stayed until the end got their money’s worth.
“What a great night,” West Virginia head coach Randy Mazey said. “Record setting crowd, and we put a good product on the field. Our kids are fun to watch. They came out and gave us all that we could handle.”
Pitt (8-19, 2-10) scored first in the top of the second, benefiting from West Virginia miscues. Starting pitcher Nick Snyder hit two Panthers with two out, and when Andres Antonini’s flare to left fell to the ground despite the diving effort of Austin Davis, the Panthers took a 1-0 lead. The play was ruled a hit, but apparent miscommunication between Davis and shortstop Tevin Tucker appeared to turn a ball that should have been caught into an RBI single.
It didn’t take long for WVU to respond in front of the boisterous turnout. Ivan Gonzalez got the rally started with a walk, and Kevin Brophy followed with an opposite field home run. With two out, Tevin Tucker walked and stole second, and Austin Davis singled him home. Tyler Doanes smacked a double to right center to drive Davis home and push the lead to 4-1.
“I was going through a rough streak where I wasn’t hitting the past week and a half,” said Brophy of his home run into the Pitt bullpen. “The one thing coach Mazey has been preaching to me is to go back to (my) opposite field gap and that will fix everything.”
The score stayed at 4-1 for the next three innings, and WVU appeared to be in control, but when Snyder departed after five innings, the Panthers took advantage, and again much of the damage was self-inflicted. Rob Washington walked, Nico Popa was hit by a pitch for the second time in the game, and Bryce O’Farrell followed with a long home run off Dillon Meadows to left that sailed into the street behind the bullpen. That got the Panthers fired up, and ratcheted up the intensity by several notches.
Both teams missed golden chances to score in the ensuing late innings. WVU put runners on second and third with one out in the sixth, but a strikeout and a groundout nullified that threat. Pitt got a leadoff triple off freshman reliever Zach Ottinger in the seventh, but he responded with two strikeouts and a line drive out to left to keep the score knotted.
West Virginia (16-11, 2-4) finally broke the tie in the bottom of the eighth. Darius Hill doubled and moved to third on Paul McIntosh’s groundout to the right side. Ivan Gonzalez was intentionally walked in deference to his excellent bat control to get to Brophy, who came into the game hitting just .173 with 28 strikeouts, but he was equal to the challenge. His fly ball to right sent Hill to the plate with the winning run and gave him a game-high three RBI.
That wasn’t the end of the fireworks, however. Andrew Zitel came to the plate, and was hit by a pitch from Pitt hurler Dan Hammer. Home plate umpire Tom Honec ejected Hammer, which didn’t make much sense, as Hammer was unlikely to want to put another baserunner on with the Panthers trailing by just one run. A long argument from Pitt head coach Mike Bell, who was already upset over a close play at third early in the game, did not help. Nor did a charge from Pitt shortstop David Yanni, who joined the entire Panther infield in arguing the call.
That’s not a scene that plays out often in college baseball, but it probably comes as no surprise that it happened in the Brawl. That amped up the electricity, especially in the West Virginia dugout, and it reached a crescendo when closer Sam Kessler took the hill. He struck out the first two batters he faced, then induced a tame grounder to second to earn his fifth save of the year.
In between the solid start from Nick Snyder, who pitched five innings and allowed just one earned run, albeit against three walks and three hit batters, Ottinger got the win by virtue of his two innings of relief, which preceded West Virginia’s go-ahead score. That was the freshman’s first decision in his WVU career
“We’re scoring runs late in our park. This is starting to turn into a pretty big home field advantage,” Mazey observed. “The crowd had a lot to do with that today.”
In addition to Brophy, who was 1-2 with a walk and a run scored in addition to his three RBI, Paul McIntosh had a pair of hits. Gonzalez worked two more walks in addition to his hit, and now has a team-best 22 on the season, one ahead of Tevin Tucker, who had one free pass to bump his total to 21.
WVU heads back into conference play this weekend with a road trip to Stillwater, Oklahoma, to take on Oklahoma State. The Cowboys are tied for first in the Big 12 at 5-1 and stand at 21-7 overall after dropping an 8-4 decision to Central Arkansas on Tuesday. The Pokes have an RPI of 26, right behind WVU’s 25 entering the Pitt game.
SEAMS AND BARRELS
WVU’s Sunday win over Oklahoma was the 205th of Randy Mazey’s career with the Mountaineers,pushing him into fourth place ahead of Ira Errett Rodgers, who had 204 wins. The next milestone is some distance away — Steve Harrick won 333 games between 1948 and 1967. Dale Ramsburg (1968-94) holds the all-time record with 534 victories.
* * * * * *
A number of West Virginia football players, continuing the program’s outing to different sports, were in attendance for the first part of the game. Running backs coach Chad Scott, getting into the spirit of the trip, was in full baseball gear for the game.
* * * * * *
WVU travels to Pitt on Tuesday, May 14 for the return game in the Brawl. That contest will be played at PNC Park, the home of the Pittsburgh Pirates.
* * * * * *
West Virginia pitchers hit four Pitt batters on the evening. Zach Ottinger lowered his ERA from 7.71 to 5.40.