WVU’s Tale of Two Homers
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Walk-off home runs are rare enough. Two home runs in a final at-bat to erase a two-run deficit are even more so. Add in the fact that both were preceded by just-miss home run swings, and we’re talking PowerBall odds.
That’s just what transpired late Sunday afternoon at Monongalia County Ballpark, though, when Kevin Brophy and Darius Hill each went deep in the bottom of the ninth to give West Virginia a 6-5 win over TCU in the finale of the three-game series.
Brophy was the first to deliver, two innings after he got a good pitch to hit but undercut it just a bit. That swing, with two on and one out in the seventh inning and WVU trailing 4-1, resulted in a fly ball to deep center that advanced lead runner Phillip Dull to third, but was just a bit short of the contact needed for a three-run homer to tie the game. Both of the runners on base eventually scored to cut the deficit to 4-3, but the result left Brophy thinking a couple of innings later.
“I was out there in the field and I told myself if I see fastball first pitch — I knew I was going to get one — I was going to put a good swing on it,” said Brophy, who moved to third base after his pinch-hitting appearance in the bottom of the seventh. “Obviously I got hold of it pretty good.”
Indeed he did, driving the first pitch he saw on a majestic arc over the fence with one out in the ninth. That reduced West Virginia’s deficit to 5-4 after TCU’s Jake Guenther had hit the second of his back-to-back solo blasts in the top of the ninth, and gave WVU new life. Brophy’s vision in the field had included a baserunner being aboard in front of him, and that his home run would tie the game, but no matter.
“After they hit that home run in the ninth, it was sort of heartbreaking for us, but we knew that we had been coming back in the last innings all year, so we weren’t worried about it,” he said of the team’s mindset.
So, on back-to-back swings, Brophy was close to a home run, then got the one he envisioned. That set the stage for another oddity three batters later. After Brandon White reached first base on a throwing error by TCU shortstop Adam Oviedo (replay showed White would have beaten the throw even if it hadn’t pulled first baseman Conner Shepherd off the bag), Darius Hill came to the plate, and ripped a pitch from reliever Marcelo Perez down the right field line. Unfortunately, Hill was just a bit out in front of the offering, and it curved foul.
“They say when you hit a foul home run you are going to strike out,” said Hill who has played enough collegiate baseball (a record-tying 220 games in a Mountaineer uniform) to see that scenario play out many times. Indeed, it’s rare when a batter can make such good contact twice in one at-bat.
The thing is, the rip off another Perez fastball gave Hill some confidence.
“I’ll admit, after the loud foul I was thinking ‘I can crush this guy. Maybe I can get another one,'” Hill related.
Indeed he did. Getting a slider that stayed up in the zone, Hill hit the ball approximately 377 feet — just a couple above the required 375 to get the ball over that distance marker on the right-center field wall.
“Fortunately, I was able to beat the odds. What a great experience! I put a good swing on it and it went out,” said Hill, who was still basking in the glow of the big ending of the game in which he tied WVU’s career starts and career games played record. “It makes it special. It means I’ve been able to stay healthy and play well. Such great things have happened for me here. I love it so much.”
So too did the fans, who were resigned to what looked like another loss before the ninth-inning magic. Instead, they got a sequence that they aren’t likely to see again for a while.