Veterans Propel WVU Baseball’s Season-Opening Win
West Virginia’s baseball team is loaded with freshmen and newcomers as it tries to build on last year’s successful season, but there’s nothing like a sprinkling of veterans to make the transition a bit easier.
The Mountaineers rode a pair of big performances from junior Jackson Wolf and senior Braden Zarbnisky to a 3-0 win over Jacksonville in the season opener for both teams on Friday night.
Wolf, WVU’s leading returning pitcher, albeit with just 69 innings in 2019, was nearly untouchable on the mound. He pitched seven innings of one-hit baseball, striking out eight and walking none.
“That was not an easy game. Those guys can really pitch,” WVU coach Randy Mazey said of Jacksonville. “Jackson showed a level of toughness that I haven’t seen out of him, going out there and answering every time they got some momentum.”
After allowing two Jacksonville runners in the first inning, Wold set down 18 Dophin batters in order before giving up his first hit of the game, a double with two out in the seventh.
“He was good from the first pitch to the last. When he gave up the hit in the seventh (inning) to break up his no-hitter he came back and got a big strikeout,” Mazey noted. “Every time there was a little bit of adversity, he answered right away, which is super, super-encouraging.”
While Wolf was mowing down JU batters, West Virginia was also struggling against Dolphin starter Trent Palmer. The Montaineers put two runners on in the first and and fifth frames, and another in the fourth, but couldn’t push any runs across. WVU got on the board against reliever Mike Cassala in the seventh when Zarbnisky, at the plate with two on and two out in the second, singled to left to drive home Victor Scott and Kevin Brophy.
One inning later, the Mountaineers added an insurance run when Paul McIntosh doubled, moved to third on a Brophy bunt single, then scored on Scott’s sacrifice fly.
Zach Ottinger came on in relief for Wolf, who threw 97 pitches, in the top of the eighth. His stint wasn’t as sharp, as he hit one batter, uncorked a wild pitch and walked another, but he manged to get a line out to center field to end the eighth to strand two runners.
It was more of the same in the ninth as a single and a double brought the tying run to the plate with one out, but it was again Zarb to the rescue, as he came on in relief and fanned the final two Dolphins of the game to earn the save.
“That’s the beauty of Zarb, and why we missed him last year,” Mazey said. “I trust him to give him the ball when the game is on the line.”
Wolf (1-0) earned the win, while Cassala (0-1) was tagged with the loss. Zarbnisky and Brophy each had two hits for WVU, while Brophy had two RBI and Scott one.
The Mountaineers stole three bases in the game, but did suffer 12 strikeouts. WVU pitchers hit two batters and threw one wild pitch, but the Mountaineers yielded only one walk while striking out 12 Dolphin batters.
The series continues on Saturday at 2:00 p.m. Righthander Ryan Bergert is scheduled to get the start for WVU.