WVU – Fordham Notebook
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Final notes and observations from West Virginia’s 6-2 win over the Rams in the Morgantown Regional:
Left a bit in the shadows of the ballpark electricity and WVU’s takeover on the bases, Kade Strowd’s four-inning relief appearance was a big factor in the Mountaineer win — and for its future hopes in the tournament.
Making the transition from starter to reliever on short notice isn’t always the easiest adjustment, but the unflappable Strowd did so, hurling those four innings in support of starter Nick Snyder to keep the Rams in check. Strowd did not allow a hit, although he did walk four batters and hit another, but his five strikeouts compensated for those potential troublemakers. The only run he yielded was unearned due to a Mountaineer error.
“That was big,” head coach Randy Mazey said of Strowd’s performance. “He’s tough on right-handed hitters. He knew going into it that he would be in a relief role today, and getting four innings out of him was big for us moving forward. To only use two guys in the first game is really big moving forward in the tournament.”
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Oh yeah, that crowd. The attendance of 4,355 was the largest home crowd in WVU baseball history, and marked the third time this year that the record has been set. West Virginia set previous records against Pitt (3,487 on April 3) and Texas Tech (3,494 on April 10.
WVU topped the previous record by 861 fans, and strained Mon County Ballpark’s listed capacity of 3,500.
Much more important than the number, though, was the involvement. The crowd was into the game from the start, was up and making noise on every two-strike count from a West Virginia pitcher, and clearly had an effect on the game. The reaction to three-ball counts to WVU hitters in the third inning, which set up the Mountaineers’ third run of the game, were about the loudest ever heard in the facility.
“It’s hard to throw a strike when you are faced with that,” Mazey said of the impact it had on Fordham pitcher John Stankiewicz.
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WVU batters ripped three pitches in the second inning about as hard as could be. The vagaries of baseball, plus the fielding talent of Fordham, dictated that they resulted in outs rather than a scoring opportunity.
Paul McIntosh led off the inning with a blast to straightaway center field, but Billy Godrick made a leaping catch at the wall while slamming into the 400-foot marker. Even West Virginia fans applauded the outstanding grab, but that was just the start of one of the best defensive innings you will ever see.
Ivan Gonzalez drilled the very next pitch right on the nose, but second baseman C.J. Vasquez climbed the ladder to rob him of a hit. Capping it off, Marques Inman lined a shot up the middle, but Stankiewicz snared it with a one-handed stab.
Such bad luck might cause some hanging of heads, some thoughts of “It might not be our night.” Certainly, that was the case in the opening game of the day, when Texas A&M smacked some shots that Duke fielders were able to flag down. However, for WVU, the barrelled-up balls actually provided encouragement.
“Ivan came into the dugout after he lined out and he’s yelling, ‘Let’s go, let’s go,'” Tyler Doanes said. “His energy; we really fed off him. And just seeing three barrels, it was like, ‘All right, we are going to get to this guy. These balls are going to start falling in. Let’s not hang our heads, we’ve got a ball game to win.'”
That view proved true, as WVU put up three runs in its next at-bat to take a lead it never relinquished.
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WVU pitchers Jackson Wolf and Sam Kessler sported toy swords during the game, part of Kessler’s ever-growing assemblage of props. It was he who spotted and bought the viking helmet that is donned by any Mountaineer who hits a home run, and for the tournament swords got into the mix.
“When the other team swings and misses, we call that a sword,” Wolf explained. Both he and Kessler wielded them for each of the 11 strikeouts Mountaineer pitchers dealt out.
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West Virginia’s defense was also a key factor in the game, holding the Rams to one run in the first and erasing a scoring threat in the fourth.
Kevin Brophy snared a rocket at third base in the opening frame to prevent at least one run from scoring, while Doanes and Tucker teamed up for a inning-ending double play in the third after Fordham had loaded the bases.
Add in another great play by defensive meister Brandon White, who swooped into short left center field to grab a shallow fly ball and then doubled runner Jake Guerciooff second, and the Mountaineers also held sway on that side of the ledger.