Late Offense Propels WVU To Road Victory
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – A four-run eighth inning propelled the West Virginia University baseball team to a 7-5 victory over Western Kentucky on Friday afternoon at Nick Denes Field in Bowling Green, Kentucky.
In the opening game of a three-game series, the Mountaineers (3-5) rallied with four runs in the eighth inning and added an insurance run in the ninth as the bullpen held the Hilltoppers (5-5) to one run on three hits in the final 4.0 innings.
Sophomore pinch hitter Chase Illig provided the spark with a go-ahead, three-run home run in the eighth, while junior Darius Hill paced the WVU offense with four hits, including a home run and a pair of doubles with two runs scored.
“We just needed to catch a break. We’ve been playing ok, but not winning games,” WVU coach Randy Mazey said. “A guy like Darius Hill, his batting average has been awful, but he’s been leading the team in hard-hit balls, and finally they’re starting to fall in for him. He had four hits today and a couple of really big ones. It’s a long season, as long as you can keep the faith and keep grinding, good things will happen to you.”
Trailing 4-2 in the eighth inning, the Mountaineers rallied with four runs on four hits, highlighted by Illig’s home run. The three-run homer came after a triple and RBI double led off the inning. WVU batted around in the frame, sending 10 men to the plate.
Senior right-hander Shane Ennis worked 2.1 innings in relief and earned the win. He saw his season-opening scoreless streak end at 9.2 innings, but improved to 2-0 on the year. In 2.1 innings, Ennis allowed a run on three hits with two strikeouts and a walk.
“Shane came in in a big situation and got two strikeouts to end the sixth inning,” Mazey added. “That’s why he’s in there, to do exactly what he did, so he’s throwing the ball really well right now.”
In relief of Ennis, sophomore right Sam Kessler pitched the final 1.2 innings and notched his third save of the year. He struck out one and did not allow a hit.
Senior right-handed starter BJ Myers pitched into the sixth inning and allowed four runs in seven hits. He struck out two and walked one and earned a no-decision for the third consecutive start.
After Myers stranded the bases loaded in the first inning, the Mountaineers got on the board with a run in the second to take a 1-0 lead. Sophomore second baseman Kevin Brophy led off the inning with a single, took second on a passed ball and was bunted to third before scoring on a groundout.
Myers stranded another runner on base in the second and third before the Hilltoppers took a 2-1 lead on a two-out, two-run home run in the fourth inning.
WVU got a run back in the top of the fifth. Junior third baseman Andrew Zitel led off the inning with a double to extend his hitting streak to a career-best and team-high-tying five games. He scored on sophomore center fielder Brandon White’s single to center to tie the game at 2-2.
However, WKU answered right back with a pair of runs in the bottom of the fifth to regain a 4-2 advantage. An RBI triple was followed by a sacrifice fly.
West Virginia loaded the bases with the help of back-to-back walks in the sixth, but a double play on a hard-hit line drive by Zitel ended the inning.
In the bottom half, Ennis relieved Myers after a leadoff single and got a pair of strikeouts to end the inning after a sacrifice bunt. Ennis then got a double play to end the seventh, keeping his scoreless streak intact and the WVU deficit at 4-2.
The Mountaineers rallied in the eighth, as junior left fielder Braden Zarbnisky led off the inning with a triple. He scored on junior catcher Ivan Gonzalez’s double to make it a one-run game, 4-3. A single followed to set up Illig, who sent a 3-1 pitch deep to right-center for his second home run of the season. The three-run shot with no outs gave WVU a 6-4 lead.
After WKU scored one in the bottom of the eighth to make it 6-5 and end Ennis’ scoreless streak, WVU got the run back in the ninth, as Hill hit his first home run of the season to right field. The insurance run extended the Mountaineer lead to 7-5.
Kessler, who got the final two outs of the eighth, pitched a perfect ninth inning with a strikeout to nail down the save.
NOTES: West Virginia improved to 3-5 on the season and 2-1 on Fridays … Today marked the first game all-time between WVU and WKU … Darius Hill had four hits, including a home run and two doubles, and continues to lead the team with five doubles on the season, while he had his first multi-hit game of the year and 48th of his career … Hill’s home run was his first of the year and eighth of his career … Chase Illig came off the bench in the eighth inning and hit his second home run of the season and fifth of his career, and the three-run shot gave him his first multi-RBI game of the year and sixth of his career … Reliever Shane Ennis’ scoreless streak to start the season ended at 9.2 innings … Ennis gave up one run on three hits in 2.1 innings and earned his second win of the season … Sam Kessler pitched the final 1.2 innings and earned his third save of the season … Andrew Zitel extended his hitting streak to a career-best and team-high-tying five consecutive games with a fifth-inning double … Starter BJ Myers pitched 5.0+ innings, allowing four runs on seven hits with two strikeouts and a walk … Braden Zarbnisky tripled in the eighth inning for his first hit of the season.