West Virginia fell into an early 5-0 hole in Tuesday’s Big 12 Championship opener against Kansas, but the Mountaineers rallied for a literal walk-off 8-7 win over the Jayhawks when Victor Scott drew a bases-loaded free pass in the bottom of the ninth at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark in Oklahoma City.
“On the scale of walk-off excitement, a walk is one of the lowest,” a nonetheless happy head coach Randy Mazey said after the game. “It doesn’t change the fact that was a really good win for us.”
The Mountaineers scored the game-winner without benefit of a hit, as Paul McIntosh was hit by a pitch, stole second, then was pushed to third by walks to Nathan Blasick and Hudson Byorick. Ben Abernathy pinch-ran for McIntosh, and then Scott worked the third walk of the inning to send the Mountaineers into a Wednesday game against Texas.
“Victor Scott’s at-bat for us was kind of the culmination of all of our at-bats,” Mazey observed. “Our hitters stood in there pretty well against Kansas’ best arms. That was a really good night for us offensively.”
Scott got ahead in the count at 2-1, then fouled off four consecutive pitches before taking the final two offerings from Kansas’ Jonah Ulane, for the walk and the win.
Prior to the small-ball final run, there were plenty of fireworks at the plate in the back-and-forth opener to the tournament. Kansas got things started with a triple and a double in the first inning to produce one run, then followed with a four-run fourth, powered by Maui Ahuna’s three-run homer to right that pushed KU’s advantage to 5-0.
That hit chased Mountaineer starter Carlson Reed, who lasted just 1.1 innings and allowed five hits and a walk to the 11 batters he faced, but reliever Ben Hampton came on to get a strikeout and a groundout end the inning.
“It was a little down,” WVU senior Kevin Brophy said of the mood in the Mountaineer dugout at that point. “I ran into the dugout and started getting the guys going. It was a spark when Alec Burns went yard.”
That occurred right after the pep talk, as the WVU freshman smacked a solo homer in the bottom of the second to ut the deficit to 5-1. Two innings later, the Mountaineers produced their own big inning with four runs, all of which scored with two out. RBI singles by Tyler Doanes and Austin Davis scored a pair, and Matt McCormick chased both home with a triple to right field to tie the score at 5-5.
Another extra base hit in the fifth, this one a triple from Nathan Blasick, led to the go-ahead run as Hudson Byorick produced an RBI grounder to the right side that scored the freshman and gave WVU a 6-5 lead.
Then it was Kansas’ turn again, as the Jayhawks got to Hampton for a pair of runs in the top of the sixth on an Ahuna RBI triple and a Tavian Josenberger single. That gave KU a 7-6 lead, but two innings later the Mountaineers rallied, as Brophy’s double to left and a resulting throwing error from Kansas’ Blaine Ray sent pinch runner Braden Barry across the plate to tie things up again at 7-7, setting up the dramatic final score.
Every Mountaineer starter had at least one hit, with Davis, McCormick, Burns, Brophy and Doanes each recording a pair. McCormick had two RBI and a pair of extra base hits.
Kansas’ Ahuna had a monster game, going 4-5 with two triples, a home run and four RBI. Josenberger was 3-5 and drove in the Jayhawks’ other two runs.
“I think we just outslugged them,” Mazey said. “We couldn’t get their shortstop (Ahuna) out at all. The longer that game went on, there weren’t going to be many zeroes left. Up and down (our) lineup, that was a good effort.”
West Virginia (24-25) gets new life, advancing to the double-elimination portion of the tournament, but things don’t get easier as the Mountaineers will face No. 1 seed Texas at 5 p.m. ET Wednesday. Jackson Wolf, West Virginia’s top starter, will get the ball for the Mountaineers in a game that will be shown on ESPN+.
Kansas’ season ended with a 30-27 record. Dan Hegarty (4-2) took the loss.
SEAMS AND BARRELS
WVU advanced its record in the Big 12 Championship to 14-12 overall, and is now 4-0 this year when entering the ninth inning tied.
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Eleven of the 28 combined hits in the game went for extra bases.
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Hampton’s performance in middle relief was an overlooked part of the game. He worked five innings, allowing two runs, but kept the Mountaineers in the contest while scattering seven hits and a pair of walks. Noah Short and Jacob Watters closed out the game with 2.2 innings of unscathed work, striking out four of the final nine Jayhawks they faced. Watters was credited with the win, his fourth of the season.
“It’s not ideal to use four pitchers in the play-in game, but we had to try to win the game,” Mazey noted of any strategic thoughts of setting up the rotation for later in the tournament. “You can set your pitching up all you want, but if you lose tonight you have a bunch of fresh pitchers sitting on an airplane.”
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West Virginia put at least one runner on base in every at-bat, while Kansas did so in seven of its nine turns at the plate. KU had 1-2-3 innings in the fifth and ninth innings.