WVU Overcomes Rough Start, Rallies For Win Over Kansas State
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — West Virginia overcame a shaky start and kept the pressure on throughout a chilly Friday evening at Monongalia County Ballpark to take an 8-5 Big 12 win over Kansas State in the first game of a three-game series. The Mountaineers, facing a significant deficit in the league standings, put some distance between themselves and the Wildcats with the comeback win.
WVU out-hit Kansas State 14-6, but the Mountaineers left 10 runners on base against just four for the Cats. West Virginia put a runner in scoring position in every inning, and eventually broke through with seven runs in its last four at-bats. That persistence was key in the win, according to WVU head coach Randy Mazey.
“Our offensive approach has been really good lately. The guys are buying in to what we want them to do, and it shows. The offense is coming around good,” said Mazey, who delivered a lengthy postgame speech to his assembled team, which has now won seven of its last nine games.
WVU didn’t do itself any favors out of the gate. With K-State up in its initial at-bat, a ground ball to first base with one on and none out should have been at least an easy force out at second. The Mountaineers were late covering the bag there, and also at first, resulting in both runners being safe. A 6-3 double play helped temporarily, but left Wildcat Will Brennan on third. A walk, followed by a wild pick-off attempt by WVU starter BJ Myers, allowed a run, and a two-out hit by Trent McMaster scored another to give the Wildcats a 2-0 lead.
Two innings later, K-State (16-22 / 2-11) again produced in the clutch. A pair of walks put two aboard, and a seeing-eye opposite field grounder down the third base line by Drew Mount doubled the lead to 4-0.
In the meantime, West Virginia (18-17 / 3-7) was also putting runners aboard, but failing to capitalize. The Mountaineers got two on in each of the first two innings, but couldn’t dent the plate. They finally did so in the third, but that still constituted another missed opportunity. Three consecutive singles loaded the bases with none out, but K-State turned a double play and got another groundout to limit the damage to one run.
WVU continued its streak of putting runners in scoring position in the fourth, and couldn’t bring anyone around, but in the fifth cut the lead to 4-3. Four consecutive singles brought home a pair of runs, but then a curious call for a bunt from Tyler Doanes with none out resulted in a pop-up to the pitcher and another double play, as Marques Inman was caught off second after the catch. Just as in the third, a groundout ended the threat.
West Virginia again self-inflicted another wound in the top of the seventh, when a pickoff attempt by catcher Ivan Gonzalez sailed over the head of third baseman Tyler Doanes. The miscue pushed the K-State lead to 5-3, but WVU was quick to respond.
West Virginia again loaded the bases in the bottom of the seventh, and quickly tied the score via a wild pitch and an Ivan Gonzalez groundout. Again, though, K-State avoided a really damaging frame by getting a strikeout to end the inning. After manufacturing that pair of runs, WVU took the lead when Braden Zarbnisky walked, stole second, advanced to third on a throwing error, then scooted home on a wild pitch. Two batters later, the one-run advantage became three when Darius Hill lined a pitch over the right field wall to give the Mountaineers their final margin.
“That’s what veteran players do,” Mazey said of Zarbnisky and Hill. “When they are doing that, we are going to win.”
Myers, starting for the first time since March 23, battled well through six innings. Uncharacteristically, he walked six batters after having given up just eight all year, but he countered with six strikeouts in six innings of work while throwing 107 pitches. Yielding five hits, he was hurt by a pair of the free passes, and also by the first inning fielding miscue.
Shane Ennis was likewise solid in relief of Myers, giving up just one hit and one walk in 1.2 innings while striking out two of the seven batters he faced. Sam Kessler backed him up with a big strikeout in the bottom of the eighth, then closed out the ninth to earn the win.
Kansas starter Justin Heskett allowed ten hits in four innings, but all were singles. He also had just one walk, and got a double play and outs in critical at-bats. He was charged with three earned runs, but got a no-decision as the Wildcats stumbled late. Alex Belch, the final of four K-State pitchers took the loss by allowing four earned runs in two frames.
All but three of the 20 hits in the contest were singles, with West Virginia’s Marques Inman and K-State’s Mount each recording a double in addition to Gray’s clinching home run. Inman wnet 4-5 with an RBI, while Hill was 3-4 with two RBI and two runs scored.
The two teams clash again in the second game of the three-game set on Saturday at 4:00 p.m. Righthander Kade Strowd (3-3, 4.83 ERA, 1.39 WHIP) is scheduled to go for West Virginia, while Caleb Littlejim (2-1, 6.55 ERA, 1.64 WHIP) will take the mound for the Wildcats.