The Mountaineers (25-16, 8-6) hadn’t played in Hoglund Ballpark since 2018. That WVU baseball team left Lawrence, Ks. with a series loss, but five home runs on the weekend.
Today alone, the current Mountaineer lineup put equally as many balls over the outfield fence. West Virginia nabbed its third Big 12 series win of 2022 with a dominant 10-8 final in the weekend’s rubber match over the Kansas Jayhawks (18-25, 3-11).
The Mountaineers knocked in at least a run in all but three innings, and the excitement began four batters into the ballgame. A lead-off walk from Austin Davis, a double from JJ Wetherholt, and a walk from Victor Scott loaded the bases with no outs for Kansas’ right-handed starter Ryan Vanderhei. WVU’s clean-up hitter, McGwire Holbrook, then did exactly as his job suggested. He grounded into a double play, but scored Davis in the process. The first run was on the board, four batters in, and the Mountaineers lead 1-0.
Kansas’ first look at the middle of the West Virginia lineup yielded another run in the second inning. Mikey Kluska walked to give the base path some juice. Tevin Tucker then popped a ball nearly foul down the right field line, but the ball hit Kansas second baseman Tavian Josenberger’s glove in fair territory and fell out. The error moved Tucker to second and scored a speedy Kluska from first. With that, the Mountaineers lead 2-0 after two.
The WVU defense, lead by right-handed starter Zach Bravo on the mound, played a tight game until the bottom of the third inning. A lead-off walk to Josenberger was seconded by Dylan Ditzenberger. The latter was soon after caught stealing for the inning’s first out, but the former would score two batters later. Ditzenberger came home off an RBI single from Nolan Metcalf, his 12th of the season. The Jayhawks had closed the deficit to 2-1, and would continue to apply serious pressure in the next inning.
The bottom of the fourth saw a lead-off double from Cooper McMurray, and the first baseman would score one batter later; catcher Jake English smashed a ground-rule double into left field to tie the ballgame, but the 2-2 score would only last a minute. Ryan Callahan smoked a pitch over the right center wall for his first career home run, and trailed English home to establish the Kansas lead 4-2. Four Kansas runs on seven hits was more than enough for West Virginia head coach Randy Mazey to pull his starter and allow right-handed reliever Zach Ottinger a chance on the bump. Ottinger collected the inning’s final three outs in clutch fashion, opening the door for a Mountaineer comeback in the fifth inning… and what a comeback it would be.
After a Wetherholt groundout and a Scott fly-out placed two outs on the board, the middle of the Mountaineer order came out swinging for the fences. Literally.
Back-to-back-to-back solo home runs from Holbrook, Nathan Blasick, and Braden Barry rocketed out of Hoglund Ballpark. Five runs on six hits for the Mountaineers placed them back in a 5-4 lead, and tallied six different Mountaineers hitting home runs this weekend.
On the mound, Ottinger closed down the Jayhawk potential in the fifth in 1-2-3 fashion, and the Mountaineer bats added a sixth run in the top of the sixth inning. Tucker singled comfortably, and Davis brought him home on a double-turned-triple-turned-out at third base. Nevertheless, the Mountaineer lead was increasing steadily, but it would falter slightly come the sixth inning.
In an effort to stave off a potential Jayhawk comeback, Mazey brought in righty Noah Short from the bullpen in the bottom of the sixth. Instead, Short allowed Josenberger, who had started the inning with a double, to come home on a two-out ground-out from Payton Allen. This 6-5 score was the closest Kansas would come to taking the lead.
In the seventh inning, freshman first baseman Grant Hussey joined the West Virginia home run derby with a 2RBI moonshot of his own into left center. Hussey’s third homer of the weekend allowed him to trot home behind Barry and score the eighth Mountaineer run.
Short shook off the previous inning’s run with back-to-back 1-2-3 dealings in the seventh and eighth, allowing the Mountaineer bats a brisk reprieve. When the WVU batters resurfaced in the ninth, the middle of the order made themselves known. Holbrook forced a four-pitch walk from Kansas right-handed reliever Jake Adams, and then waited patiently. Two batters later, he found what he was looking for. Barry struck again, sending a pitch over the left field wall. Holbrook lead him around the base path for the Mountaineers’ ninth and tenth runs. Ten runs on 11 hits and a 10-5 score finally allowed a comfortable lead for the Mountaineers, but the Jayhawks gave one final push in the home half of the ninth inning.
Short was wheeling and dealing, hoping to collect the final three outs of the game and go home with a fairly easy win. It wasn’t to be. One out into the last inning, Short sent a pitch to Caleb Upshaw; the center fielder had gone nearly dormant up to this point, but with runners on first and second, he found a pitch he liked. That ball turned into a 3RBI home run out of Hoglund Ballpark via center field, Upshaw’s ninth home run of the season. He scored, along with Ditzenberger and Allen, to close the gap to 10-8. Short was pulled quickly after, in favor of a lefty-on-lefty match-up between Kevin Dowdell and McMurray, who had the potential to pull the game even closer. Dowdell issued McMurray a two-out, safety net walk, and was replaced by closer Trey Braithwaite, who recorded the game’s final out.
Ottinger (2-1) earned the win and Braithwaite his sixth season save for the Mountaineers, while Kansas’ starter Vanderhei got his fourth loss, 5-4, with the 10-8 final. West Virginia’s 10 runs came from 11 hits, five of which were home runs, while Kansas’ eight runs came off of 13 hits, two of which were home runs. WVU (26-16, 9-6) takes the series, 2-1, and will return to Morgantown for a well-deserved break from Big 12 conference action. No mid-week game is scheduled, but the Big 12 action picks back up this weekend.
Friday ushers in the next home game, when the Texas Longhorns (31-15, 9-8) come to town. First pitch at Monongalia County Ballpark is set for 6:30 p.m.