MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – In a quick turn-around, midweek match-up, the West Virginia Mountaineers (26-16) welcomed West Virginia Division II powerhouse Charleston (30-13) to Monongalia County Ballpark. The game, added Monday, was theoretically allocated as an easy Mountaineer win ahead of a weekend series full of Longhorns.
That’s not at all what the 1,226 fans in attendance got to see first-hand. Instead, the University of Charleston took a 2-1 lead in the seventh and made quick work of the West Virginia batters. A cleanly-played game and good action on both sides came down to a ninth inning solo home run from a WVU pinch hitter who had gone 2-14 ahead of the at-bat.
WVU head coach Randy Mazey came into tonight switching things up. He moved JJ Wetherholt from third base to second, catcher Dayne Leonard to third, and started right-handed pitcher Will Watson for the first time in the freshman’s career. On the mound, Watson kicked the game off with a 1-2-3 first inning of work. He went another inning before making way for fellow freshman right-handed reliever Michael Kilker. Watson, who entered tonight with three strikeouts, 2.2 innings pitched, and a 6.75 ERA, added another four strikeouts to his name.
Kilker dealt the Golden Eagles a 1-2-3 inning in the third, but was pulled in the fourth in favor of a third freshman righty: Aidan Major. The tops of the innings sped along, but on the bases, the Mountaineers couldn’t seem to string action together. The team left two bases loaded situations stranded in the first and third innings, and it took until the fourth to get into what felt like a groove for the amended lineup.
UC brought in freshman Robby Shepherd to relieve starter Campbell Spradling in the fourth inning, and the Mountaineer small ball began. Shepherd hit pinch hitter Evan Smith and allowed three straight base hits from Leonard, Tevin Tucker, and Austin Davis to advance. Davis’ single scored Smith moments before the tag came home. The Mountaineers lead 1-0, but there was no sigh of relief.
The tops of the fifth and sixth saw Major maintain a solid outing. He sat down the side in the fifth and forced a groundout double play and a routine groundout at first base to escape the sixth. It was the seventh that allowed the Golden Eagles a glimpse at a chink in Major’s armor. UC’s lead-off batter, Eric Chartier, was hit by a pitch, and a sac bunt from Giano Zuccaro moved him forward a bag. Zuccaro, who had been as far as second base in the second inning, was itching to score in the seventh and tie the game. When his teammate Drew Klaserner knocked a single up the middle, Zuccaro saw his opportunity. He tied the game 1-1 in the seventh with a mad dash home, and Major was subsequently pulled. Veteran reliever Chase Smith came in, but the Charleston lineup was building its momentum.
Klaserner stole second during Pete Costigan’s at-bat, and Costigan’s single propelled him to third base. Klaserner’s trip around the base path would conclude a batter later, when a bunt single from Andre Martinez plated him, effectively taking the go-ahead score 2-1. Now that the Golden Eagles had the lead over a Division I school, the team wasn’t letting up.
They sent reliever Cole Peschl to the mound, and his seventh and eighth innings both sat their Mountaineer sides down. Charleston was doing everything the program knew how to in order to come into Morgantown and snatch the mid-week win. What they didn’t prepare for was a ninth inning, lead-off, solo home run from community college transfer, junior Kevin Dowdell.
Dowdell, in for Tucker, concluded his eight-pitch at-bat with a home run smoked well over the right field concourse and out into the parking lot.
“A homer,” Mazey said when asked what he was looking for when he subbed Dowdell in. “It’s what he’s capable of doing and it was pretty conducive to that match-up. It wasn’t just a homer. It was a really, really clean at-bat in a big moment, which is… we try to get guys to do that all the time, but that actually was a really good game.”
“After the foul ball I pulled, I knew I was locked in on him,” Dowdell said of watching Peschl consistently throw upper 90s fastballs. “I just had to make sure I was on time for the next fastball to come in. I liked his pitching style. He changed up his motion a few times, which was kind of funky. I liked it a lot. He would pick his leg up and was kind of slow to the plate, so I knew I would just have to make sure I’d be ready for the different timings he could go with.”
No outs on the board; a tied, late-stage ballgame; and the top of the Mountaineer order up became the perfect storm. Wetherholt hit a single into center field and stole second base after a Victor Scott center field fly-out. As the crowd prepared for extra innings, clean-up batter McGwire Holbrook did exactly what he needed to do. He put bat to ball and forced a line drive into center field. It was a no-doubter for a base hit, but the fielding was slow, and it allowed Wetherholt just enough time to round third and head home. Holbrook’s RBI turned into a game winner when Wetherholt touched the plate, and the Mountaineers took the victory with a 3-2 final.
Tonight’s ninth inning walk-off-style is the fourth time the Mountaineers have won in this fashion. 2022 has seen late-stage Mountaineer victories against Rider (Mar. 8: 5-4 (10 inn.)), Ohio State (Mar. 11: 7-6), and Baylor (Apr. 8: 7-6). Tonight’s 3-2 final makes four Wild and Wonderful West Virginia walk-off winners at Monongalia County Ballpark this season.
Additionally, the final gave West Virginia closer Daniel Ouderkirk his first win (1-0) after a single inning pitched, a pair of hits allowed, and three strikeouts. Charleston’s Peschl earned the loss, his first of the season (2-1), after going 3.1 innings and giving up three hits and two runs, the first of which was Dowdell’s smash homer. Today concludes WVU’s midweek offerings until May 10, when the Pitt Panthers come to Morgantown.
In the meantime, play will pick back up at Monongalia County Ballpark on Friday at 6:30 p.m. when the Texas Longhorns come to town for the weekend.