West Virginia Baseball Team Pours Past Niagara
A four-run sixth-inning rally and seven strong innings from the bullpen propelled the West Virginia University baseball team to a 9-6 victory over Niagara on Tuesday night at Monongalia County Ballpark.
The Mountaineers (11-14) rallied with a go-ahead, four-run sixth inning while holding the Purple Eagles (7-13) to just one run on three hits in the final six innings. WVU scored nine runs on 14 hits, while NU (7-13) plated six runs on 11 hits. Both teams committed one error in the contest.
West Virginia trailed 5-1 with no outs in the third inning, before junior righty Braden Zarbnisky, sophomore right-hander Sam Kessler and senior righty Shane Ennis pitched the final 7.0 innings and held NU to one run on three hits.
“Unbelievable,” WVU coach Randy Mazey said of his bullpen’s performance. “We had a plan going into this game, like we always do pitching-wise, but that got thrown out the window when they go up 5-1. You have to bring your best guys in there. Those guys, our best guys, have been pitching the best, but they can’t pitch every game. So, we have to have somebody else out of that bullpen step up and pitch some quality innings for us. In order to do that, they just have to watch the guys who are pitching really well and do what they do.”
Kessler picked up the win, pitching 1.2 shutout innings and allowing just one hit with a pair of strikeouts and no walks. Ennis earned the save, the second of his career, while allowing no hits in the final 2.1 innings with three strikeouts.
Zarbnisky got the bullpen’s strong outing going, pitching 3.0 innings and allowing a run on two hits with three strikeouts and no walks. Offensively, while starting the game as the designated hitter, he had a hit, drove in two runs, scored two runs and walked twice. Zarbnisky gave the Mountaineers a 1-0 lead in the first inning when he stole home.
Sophomore center fielder Brandon White had a career-high four hits with two RBIs, while junior right fielder Darius Hill had three hits and scored two runs.
“We’ve been talking about our hitting approach recently,” Mazey added. “We’ve gotten away from our approach, hitting the ball in the middle of the field. I think guys are buying into the approach, and most of the balls we hit tonight were in the gaps in that direction. We squared some balls up. They gave up some walks too, and gave us some free bases. It’s tough to do that against a team that’s swinging it pretty well. It was a good night for us offensively.”
The Mountaineers jumped out to an early 1-0 lead in the first inning, as Zarbnisky stole home. He led off the inning with a single and advanced to third on a one-out base hit. The Niagara starter was slow to check third, and Zarbnisky took advantage, stealing home with plenty of time as the throw came home. It marked the eighth time this season West Virginia scored in the first inning and the 14th time WVU scored first in a game.
Niagara took a 2-1 lead in the second, on a two-out triple, RBI double and RBI single. The second run scored on a fielding error. The Purple Eagles extended their lead to 5-1 on a three-run home run in the third inning. Then, Zarbnisky entered the game to get the final three outs of the inning, with two coming via strikeouts.
After Zarbnisky pitched a 1-2-3 fourth, West Virginia chipped away with a run in the bottom half as Zarbnisky drove in junior shortstop Jimmy Galusky on a sacrifice fly. Niagara answered with a run of its own in the top of the fifth on a sacrifice fly to regain a 6-4 lead.
However, the Mountaineers answered right back in the bottom of the fifth, again on a sacrifice fly by Zarbnisky. He scored junior second baseman Kyle Gray to make it a one-run game, 6-5.
Kessler relieved Zarbnisky in the sixth, and pitched a 1-2-3 inning.
West Virginia followed with a big four-run sixth inning to take a 9-6 lead. A single and a walk led off the inning before sophomore left fielder Isaiah Kearns singled home the first run, tying the game at 6-6. With one out, junior third baseman Andrew Zitel singled in the go-ahead run, and White followed with a two-out double to left-center to score another two runs.
Two reached in the seventh before Ennis relieved Kessler to get the final out of the inning and strand two. In the eighth, Ennis retired the side in order with one strikeout. He nailed down his second career save with a perfect ninth inning.
West Virginia returns home for a weekend series against UNLV from April 6-8. The series at Monongalia County Ballpark begins on Friday, April 6, at 6:30 p.m. Saturday’s game is at 4 p.m., while first pitch of Sunday’s finale is at 1 p.m. Coliseum or on game day at Monongalia County Ballpark.
Several promotions are planned for this weekend, beginning with Friday Night Happy Hour on Friday, where half-off beverages are available from 5:30-6:30, and all fans can play Baseball Bingo. On Saturday, fans can watch the WVU football spring game, at 1 p.m., and the baseball game, at 4 p.m., with a special combo ticket for just $15. It also is Family Day, where fans can purchase four tickets and receive a $10 concession voucher for just $25. The series concludes on April 8, with the first Kids Day of the year, which features a new Kids Zone Presented by WVU Medicine Children’s with inflatables and Mr. Twister’s Balloon Art and Face Painting. Additionally, kids can run the bases after the game.
NOTES: WVU improves to 11-14 on the season and 3-1 at home … The Mountaineers improve to 16-3 all-time vs. Niagara, with every game coming at home … Tonight’s game begins a stretch where WVU will play 15 of its next 18 games at home … WVU scored in the first inning for the eighth time this year and scored first for the 14th team … Sam Kessler picked up the win to improve to 1-0 in 2018 and 2-2 in his career … Shane Ennis earned the save, the second of his career … Brandon White had a career-high four hits with two RBIs … Braden Zarbnisky had a hit, two RBIs, two walks, a run scored and stole home while adding 3.0 innings on the mound, allowing a run on two hits with three strikeouts.