The No. 21 West Virginia University baseball team won a back-and-forth affair, 9-7, to open a three-game series at Kansas State on Friday night in Manhattan, Kansas.
On a cool, rainy evening at Tointon Family Stadium, the Mountaineers (23-13, 9-4 Big 12) and Wildcats (19-19, 2-11 Big 12) traded the lead five times before WVU scored four runs in the eighth inning.
The victory was WVU’s third in a row and 10th in its last 13 games.
That was a really hard-fought win,” WVU coach Randy Mazey said. “They were very offensive today. It was a tough night on the pitchers, we had two really good pitchers going at each other, but just a really tough night to pitch. We just kept grinding out at-bats. We got behind, and then we tied, got behind again, and just kept making things happen. This offense is clicking pretty well right now.”
West Virginia and K-State both had 13 hits, though the Wildcats were held to just two in the final 2.2 innings by sophomore reliever Braden Zarbnisky, who picked up his team-leading fifth win of the year. Zarbnisky pitched the final 2.2 innings, allowing just two hits with three strikeouts and no walks.
Sophomore second baseman Kyle Gray led the Mountaineers offensively, with three hits and four RBIs, both career-high-tying totals.
Trailing 7-5, West Virginia rallied with four runs on four hits, with five stolen bases, in the top of the eighth inning. Sophomore third baseman Cole Austin led off the frame with a single and advanced to second on a wild pitch and took third on a flyout. He scored on junior left fielder Kyle Davis’ single up the middle. With freshman pinch-runner TJ Lake on first, Zarbnisky singled to put two runners on for sophomore shortstop Jimmy Galusky.
Lake and Zarbnisky stole their first two bases when Galusky attempted a squeeze bunt, but missed on a pitch that was outside. Galusky attempted another squeeze bunt, but the ball went to the backstop, allowing Lake to steal home and Zarbnisky to steal third. That tied the game at 7-7.
Swinging the bat for the first time in the at-bat, Galusky reached on a fielder’s choice, as the throw from second base went home, but not in time to get Zarbnisky. A single by sophomore second baseman Kyle Gray to right center brought in the inning’s fourth run, to give West Virginia its 9-7 lead.
“That’s the type of offense we have,” Mazey said of WVU’s eighth inning. “If we need to play that way, and try and win that way, we’re very capable of bunting and stealing bases. If we need to play with the long ball, we’re capable of that too. That’s the sign of a very well-balanced offense.”
Junior right-handed starter BJ Myers got the start, and gave up four runs on nine hits in 5.0 innings. He struck out four and walked one.
Myers allowed two hits in the first, but stranded both baserunners, before K-State scored the game’s first run in the second inning on a two-out RBI single.
The Mountaineers answered with two runs in the top of the third inning to take a 2-1 lead. The first two batters in the inning reached, on a single and an error, before a passed ball put runners on second and third. Gray then singled to bring in both runs.
However, the Wildcats responded to regain the lead at 3-2, with two runs in the bottom of the third. A leadoff walk, followed by a single and a groundout put runners on second and third before a two-RBI single plated both runs.
Kansas State extended the lead to two with an RBI double with two outs in the fourth to make it 4-2.
West Virginia again took advantage of several K-State miscues and answered in the top of the fifth inning with two runs to tie the game at 4-4. Galusky led off the inning with a single, advanced to second on a passed ball and was successfully sacrifice-bunted to third. A groundout scored Galusky before back-to-back two-out singles and a wild pitch put runners on second and third. Up stepped Austin, who reached on a fielding error, allowing the tying run to score.
Myers followed with a clean fifth inning, allowing just one single. Senior right-hander Jackson Sigman started the sixth inning on the mound, and walked one, but the Wildcats again stranded a runner on base.
WVU regained the lead in the seventh, on a groundout by sophomore catcher Ivan Gonzalez that allowed freshman center fielder Brandon White to score. White led off the inning with a single.
The lead again went back to K-State in the bottom of the seventh. A one-out single off of Sigman tied the game, before a double and a sacrifice fly make it 7-5 off of Zarbnisky.
That set up WVU’s four-run, four-hit, eighth inning rally. Zarbnisky followed with a clean eighth inning before striking out the side in the ninth to pick up his team-leading fifth win of the season.