Mountaineers Eliminated By Oklahoma State Despite Another Late Rally
By Matt Keller
West Virginia’s comeback kids had one more left in them. Unfortunately, they needed two.
Trailing in the ninth inning for the second straight game, the Mountaineers rallied to tie 3-3 on Jimmy Galusky’s RBI single after a pinch hit double to left. But Oklahoma State pushed across a run in the 10th, and Jackson Cramer’s game-winning shot to the warning track was gloved at the wall as the Cowboys finished a 4-3 extra-inning victory to move to the Big 12 Championship final and eliminate WVU.
“I was confident the whole time when (the left fielder) was backpedaling that ball,” head coach Randy Mazey said. “I still thought we had a chance to win. There were some unbelievable at-bats with the game on the line, Jimmy’s being one of them on the stage that they were on.”
It was a valiant effort by West Virginia (34-24), which has already assured itself of its first NCAA Tournament bid in 21 years with a top 25 finish in the RPI and a fourth-place standing in the Big 12 during the regular season. But these Mountaineers wanted more, a little icing on the cake that would have erased the bittersweet Big 12 Championship ending from a season ago, when WVU became the postseason darling in making a run to the title game and rallying from eight runs down before falling in extra innings to top-seed TCU in the final.
It left West Virginia one game short of snapping the two decades long streak of failing to reach an NCAA regional, and Mazey vowing his program would take the next step this season if the squad stayed together. That’s exactly what has transpired, with West Virginia running through the nation’s 16th most difficult schedule and outperforming preseason expectations with a top half finish in the country’s toughest RPI league.
The Mountaineer magic continued on Friday, when West Virginia trailed top-seeded and No. 4 ranked Texas Tech 6-4 in the 9th inning before Cramer’s two-out, inside-the-park circle of the bases on a error forced extra frames with WVU advancing to the semifinal via a six-run 10th inning in the 12-7 win. That provided a much-needed momentum boost against a red-hot OSU team that forced its way into the Big 12 Championship field by winning a Bedlam series against rival Oklahoma. The Cowboys then beat Texas Tech and WVU in bracket play to secure a semifinal bid, holding a psychological edge in remaining undefeated in the double elimination format.
West Virginia’s aim was to sweep Oklahoma State on Saturday and wedge its way into a second straight final against the winner of Texas and TCU. It appeared it might do just that after pinch hitter Kevin Brophy doubled to left on a routine fly ball that was misjudged by OSU shortstop Cameron Dobbs. The wind pushed the pop up beyond Dobbs’ reach, and set the Mountaineers up with a runner in scoring position and one out. Galusky then slapped a run-scoring single to right field, tying the game and putting the winning run on before OSU got the final two outs to force extra innings.
The Cowboys took advantage as a double, hit by pitch and a single pushed a run across in the top of the 10th. Reliever Riley Troutt escaped the jam without further damage, and the Mountaineers were down 4-3 with three outs left. Another fielding error by the Cowboys opened the proverbial door with two outs, but alas Cramer’s deep drive to left stayed in the park as West Virginia finished 2-2 in the Big 12 Championship and will now await its NCAA seeding, to be announced Monday.
The ending soured a solid starting performance by Kade Strowd as the freshman scattered three hits over 5.2 innings with seven strikeouts and five walks. He exited with two on in the sixth inning after a career-high 115 pitches, and was tagged with both earned runs as reliever Jackson Sigman gave up a walk and a three-run double to Garrett McCain that put OSU ahead 3-1. WVU scored a run in the bottom of the sixth on a wild pitch and tied the game in the ninth before ultimately falling to 7-6 in one-run games this year.
“We’ve played a lot of games this year that have come down to the last inning,” Mazzey said. “We lost a lot of them early, but we got walked-off three times on our spring trip. When we got home we started walking other people off. So a game like that’s not unusual to us and that’s what we talked about, let’s walk them off, we’re the home team, we’ve got a chance to win this thing in the bottom of the inning. I mean we all feel confident with all the experience we’ve had in games like that.”
Troutt (1-1) took the loss after allowing the winning run. West Virginia’s offense was paced by three hits from Darius Hill and two from Kyle Gray at the top of the order. The Mountaineers stranded eight, far fewer than in its previous two games, and was able to limit the damage from Oklahoma State early, when the Pokes left eight on base over the ifrst four innings; it stranded 16 in all.
OSU’s Carson Teel (5-4) picked up the victory. The eighth – and lowest – seeded Cowboys (29-25), who defeated WVU 8-4 on Tuesday, are now one game away from securing an NCAA bid via the automatic berth for the conference postseason champion. The Big 12 is expected to get six at-large bids, among them WVU; The Mountaineers are projected as a No. 2 seed in the four-team Charlottesville region, hosted by No. 9 Virginia.
Notes: West Virginia is now 8-8 all-time in the Big 12 Championship; Oklahoma State is 24-35 but leads WVU 3-1 in the all-time series of Big 12 Championship play … Oklahoma State returns to the Big 12 Championship game for the second time in three seasons … Cramer has six RBI in the last two postseason games … Galusky went 7-for-13 with three RBI and three runs scored in three games played in the tournament … Oklahoma State is the first No. 8 seed to advance to the Championship game since Missouri in 2011 and the first No. 8 seed to win their first three games of Championship play.