Relief By Meadows, Aggressive Baserunning Keys to WVU Win
Holding a 9-1 lead after three innings against Kansas in the opening game of the Big 12 Baseball Championshp, the Mountaineers appeared poised to cruise to a win, with the accompanying benefit of a stree-free and low usage day for the bullpen.
The hopes for that outcome were dashed, however, when the Jayhwaks rallied for a combined six unanswered runs in the fourth and fifth innings to cut the deficit to three, forcing WVU to go to the bullpen much earlier than it hoped. The Mountaineers got one inning from Gabe Kurtzhals, but just one out from Zach Reid, who allowed three hits, a walk and a run to five KU batters. With the WVU lead now down to 10-8, head coach Randy Mazey turned to Dillon Meadows, who had given up more earned runs than any other West Virginia reliever this year. However, in the cauldron of the postseason, Meadows came up big when the pressure was on. With two in scoring position and no out in the seventh, Meadows recorded three straight outs, the last one a strikeout of Kansas’ most dangerous hitter, Jaxx Groshans.
Meadows went on to finish out the game in near-perfect fashion, with only an eighth inning fielding error allowing a Kansas baserunner. His performace stemmed Kansas’ momentum and allowed the Mountaineers to get an all-important win on the first day of the Championship.
In all, the Mountaineers used four pitchers, but on the good news front, WVU did not have to use relievers Ryan Bergert or Sam Kessler. WVU will be counting on Alek Manoah to deliver his normal seven or eight innings of work on Thursday, and if he can do that, the staff will be in very good shape heading to the weekend.
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While WVU’s big first and second innings, when it scored a combined eight runs, were obviously important in setting the tone of the game, it may have been the ultimate smallball play in the seventh that returned momentum to the West Virginia dugout and secured the win. Leading by two runs, and perhaps buoyed a bit by Meadows’ shutdown job in the top of the inning, WVU’s Tevin Tucker and Tyler Doanes smacked back-to-back singles, with Tucker advancing to third on Doanes’ hit. Playing aggressively, Doanes stole second to remove the chance of an inning-ending double play, which set the stage for a play that head coach Randy Mazey has long employed.
With Brandon White at the plate, Mazey called for a squeeze, which White executed to perfection, pushing it hard past pitcher Blake Goldsberry and giving him no chance to make a play. Kansas first baseman Nolan Metcalf hesitated in fielding the ball, lingering near the bag while waiting for it to get to him. While that did allow him to grab the ball and step on the base at the same time to get White, it also allowed Doanes, who was off and running from second base on the bunt, a chance to execute the rare two-for-one squeeze score. Doanes steamed around third without hesitation and slid into the plate ahead of the throw from Metcalf, adding his score to that of Tucker’s.
While that accounted for just two runs, the effect on the momentum of the game was huge. West Virginia was clearly fired up by the aggressive play, while Kansas, which had made admirable rallies in the middle innings, was just as obviously a bit downtrodden. It’s just such plays as these that can make the difference in winning a championship and falling short, and these are the kinds of momentum boosters that the Mountaineers will need if they are to make deep runs in the postseason.