WVU Drops Thriller to Wake Forest
By Kevin Kinder
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – In a thrilling game full of tense moments and classic confrontations, Wake Forest scored in the bottom of the ninth to capture a 4-3 win over West Virginia.
The near sellout crowd buzzed throughout the game, with homestanding Wake Forest fans dueling with a large turnout of Mountaineer faithful. West Virginia supporters were vociferous throughout, and turned what might have been a big home field advantage into nothing more than an even split at worst. Still, it was the hometown crowd that went home happy when Gavin Sheets lined a shot into the right centerfield gap to score Jonathan Pryor withh the game winner.
Fans on both sides were rewarded by excellent play throughout. WVU got off to the best possible beginning, despite the 7:00 p.m. start that had the pitcher’s mound in sun while the plate was in shadows. Kyle Gray led off with a double down the right field line and came around to score on Darius Hill’s single, and one batter later Jackson Cramer blasted a pitch over wall in right for two more runs.
That 3-0 lead stood up until the bottom of the fifth, when Wake’s Bruce Steel came through with his own two-run blast. This one went the opposite way, with the righthander clearing the left centerfield wall to cut the lead to 3-2.
That hit marked the end of the day for WVU starter Isaiah Kearns, who was coming off a complete game three-hitter against Oklahoma State in the Big 12 Championship. He was spotless in the first two innings, but had to fight out of trouble in the next two to keep the Demon Deacons off the board. Key in that stretch was a double play keyed by rightfielder Hill, who tracked down a Keegan Maronpot drive into the gap in right center, then whirled and fired to first to double off Steel. Kearns allowed the two earned runs and struck out four in four innings of work.
Sam Kessler then took the mound for WVU, and had an outstanding outing. He faced 11 batters over 2.2 innings, striking out five and allowing three baserunners. After walking a batter with two out in the seventh, though, he was relieved in favor of Braden Zarbnisky.
At that point the Deacons got a huge break. Pryor hit a ball directly down in front of home plate, where it was fielded by WVU catcher Ivan Rodriguez, who threw to first for what appeared to be the third out of the inning. Home plate umpire Darren Hyman, however ruled that the ball hit Pryor in the box, although replays showed it did not. Given new life, Pryor doubled to left to drive home the tying run. The next two Wake Forest batters walked to load the bases, but Zarbnisky was able to bear down and strike out Gavin Sheets to end the frame.
Wake Forest starter Parker Dunshee was also on top of his game after the rough start. He threw 111 pitches over seven innings, and kept the Mountaineers off the scoreboard after the three-run first. He only allowed one baserunner past second over the final six innings of his night.
“Dushee realized early on he wasn’t going to throw fastballs past our guys, and he did a great job of adjusting on the fly,” WVU head coach Randy Mazey said.
Reliever Griffin Roberts came on for Wake in the eighth, and appeared to be a bit shaky, allowing a line drive single to Rodriguez and hitting Cole Austin. However, he then struck out Cramer and Kyle Davis to end the Mountaineer threat.
Walks and a failure to produce with runners on allowed the Deacons to creep back in the game. West Virginia walked six batters over the final 4.1 innings, setting Wake up with scoring chances which they capitalized on in the fifth, seventh, and ninth. Meanwhile, after the productive first, the Mountaineers came up empty. They were just 2-14 (.143) with runners on base and 1-10 (.100) with runners in scoring position.
With the loss, WVU must make a quick turnaround. The Mountaineers will play Maryland in an elimination game on Sunday at noon. The game will be streamed on ESPN3. If West Virginia wins, it will be right back on the field at 5:00 p.m. for another rematch with Wake Forest.