Sam Kessler Shines In Closer Role For WVU
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — West Virginia closer Sam Kessler is on a roll.
After a couple of less than optimal outings in March against William & Mary and Baylor, the Mount Sinai, New York native has been the very definition of the term. He’s had an outstanding five days, getting back on track against Oklahoma on Saturday and then nailing down the win over the Sooners on Sunday. He capped that with another save-worthy outing on Wednesday to preserve a Backyard Brawl win over Pitt.
In those three appearances, he has pitched three innings, allowing no hits, no walks and no runs while striking out five.
The Saturday game, in which he faced two batters and fanned both on a total of 11 pitches, helped him regain some of the confidence and fire he plays with. In Sunday’s contest, a 5-1 win, he made his appearance with two outs in the eighth and recorded four outs on just 11 pitches in earning his fourth save.
“My fastball has improved over the past week or so. Working with Coach (Zach) Bargeron and Coach Mazey, they have really helped me get back on track,” Kessler said. “I’ve got good defense behind me. I just throw the ball over the plate. Get outs and win games, that’s all that matters.”
There’s more to it than that, of course. Kessler has been getting ahead in counts early, and his control has allowed him to paint some corners and throw pitches in locations that are tough to hit. He has walked just two of the 65 batters he has faced on the season, while still holding an excellent 1.72 ERA and a WHIP of 1.12.
Six of the 15 hits he has allowed came in that two-game stretch against the Tribe and Bears, but since then he has been spotless in four appearances.
“I’m just trying to make pitches, whatever Coach Mazey calls, just trying to execute the best pitch possible,” Kessler said of his approach when the game is on the line, as it was when he entered the game against the Panthers with a one-run lead. “Strikeouts are nice, but if we are getting outs, that’s all that matters.”
Pitching in front of a WVU-record crowd on Wednesday evening just added some spice to the already heightened atmosphere.
“I’m always ready, whatever the situation,” said Kessler. I love pitching in games like this, especially against Pitt. I’m always ready to get called in. All I have to do is perform. Whenever the crowd gets involved in the game it’s awesome. It gets everyone fired up. Sitting in the bullpen we get the lead in the eighth inning, I knew I was going to come in. Our offense performed, our defense played well.”
So too did Kessler, who earned his fifth save of the season by mowing down the final three Panthers on 12 pitches, including a pair via strikeout.