MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — TCU pitchers held six of nine Mountaineer batters in the starting lineup without a hit and scored in four of their last five at-bats to take a 8-2 win over West Virginia in the opener of a three-game Big 12 series at Monongalia County Ballpark on Friday night.
TCU starter Russell Smith allowed two earned runs over 4.1 innings, and when he ran into trouble in the fifth, reliever Drew Hill was very good in relief. While Hill did allow a walk and a hit that permitted West Virginia’s second run of the game (charged to Smith), he induced a huge double play ball that got the Horned Frogs out of the bases-loaded, one out situation with just one run scored in the top of the fifth. He yielded just one hit over the final four innings and was credited with the win as he struck out five against just the one walk while retiring the final ten Mountaineers he faced.
WVU (15-19, 6-10) did manage to get to Smith early, courtesy of a shuffled batting order that, at least for a moment, seemed to herald a return to the aggressive small ball approach of recent Mountaineer teams. Austin Davis, elevated to the leadoff spot, led off the bottom of the first with a bunt single, moved to second on Mikey Kluska’s sacrifice bunt, then scored on Tyler Doanes’ double down the left field line. Unfortunately, Doanes was caught trying to steal third, ending any further scoring potential.
West Virginia starter Jackson Wolf was on fire early, striking out nine of the first 13 batters he faced and allowing just one TCU baserunner through four innings. In the fifth, though, momentary control issues — a bugaboo at times this year — again reared their head. Jackson issued a leadoff walk and a pair of hits that scored one, then pushed the resulting two baserunners to second and third with a wild pitch. Tommy Sacco, hitting ninth in the order, followed with a two-run single to give the visitors a 3-1 lead.
Wolf got a strikeout and a groundout to end the top of the fifth to keep WVU in it, but the Mountaineers missed a golden chance to tie the game or take the lead in the bottom of the frame. Three walks around a Matt McCormick lineout loaded the bases, and when Davis singled to drive a run home, West Virginia appeared poised to put up a crooked number. However, that’s when Hill got his pivotal double play ball off the bat of Kluska to preserve TCU’s lead at 3-2.
The league-leading Horned Frogs (31-10, 13-3) got insurance runs in the sixth and eighth, then made the margin decisive with a three-run ninth.
Wolf (3-5) was tagged with the loss after working six innings in which he allowed six hits, three walks and four earned runs against 11 strikeouts.
Davis had an excellent night with his move back to the top of the order, going 3-4 with a double and an RBI. Paul McIntosh was 2-3, but was picked off after singling in the fourth. Davis was also picked off after his third-inning double — continuing a trend of West Virginia baserunning mistakes that have cut down scoring threats several times this season.
Game two of the series is scheduled for 2 p.m. Saturday. Jake Carr (1-3, 10.59 ERA) is scheduled to get the ball for the Mountaineers against TCU’s Austin Krob (5-0, 3.21 ERA) in another battle of lefthanded starters.
SEAMS AND BARRELS
West Virginia now has no one in the regular playing rotation hitting over .300. Hudson Byorick fell to .292 after an 0-3 evening.
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Braden Barry started the game in centerfield in place of Victor Scott, who has, like many of his teammates, been struggling at the plate of late. Scott pinch hit in the ninth and grounded out.
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TCU produced five hits with two out and was 5-13 overall in such situations, while WVU was just 2-9.
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Wolf struck out two Horned Frogs in each of the first three innings, then fanned the side in the fourth around a walk.