Entering Lupton Baseball Stadium in Fort Worth, Texas, the WVU Baseball team (14-9, 0-0) was looking to avoid a losing streak and beginning conference play against the No. 12 TCU Horned Frogs (18-7, 5-1) in a less than auspicious manner.
The last seven meetings of the two were TCU victories, and now the series champs were hosting.
Horned Frog sophomore right-handed pitcher Riley Cornelio was flawless on the mound, retiring the Mountaineer side in four straight innings.
The Mountaineers sent out junior right-handed pitcher Jacob Watters to face the ranked Horned Frog lineup, and the batters quickly proved their worth. Despite solid fielding from WVU’s Tevin Tucker and Mikey Kluska at shortstop and second base, respectively, a first inning, first-pitch double from TCU freshman David Bishop got the base path warmed up. A pitch later, senior Gray Rodgers backed that single up with one of his own, and Bishop scored to give the Horned Frogs the lead, 1-0.
WVU didn’t get a hit until the third inning, when redshirt junior Tucker singled, but promptly got caught stealing. Luckily for the Mountaineers, that stealing attempt would not be indicative of the rest of tonight’s base path action.
Cornelio was wheeling and dealing on the mound, charting four straight K’s through the fourth and fifth innings, and TCU’s 1-0 lead stuck until the top of the sixth.
The top of the Mountaineer order’s senior Austin Davis sent a single up the middle and then stole second… and then third… and then home. His 17th stolen base of the season came during a Cornelio wild pitch, and a flurry of home plate action later, the score was tied.
The bottom of the seventh provided the Horning Frogs a chance to get ahead. Watters retired after 6 IP, one run, four hits, and 103 pitches thrown. In his place: fifth year right-handed pitcher Trey Braithwaite.
A lead-off walk from TCU sophomore Kurtis Bryne put the go-ahead run on first. After advancing to second, a wild pitch set Bryne 90 feet away. Then, a passed ball by WVU catcher Dayne Leonard hit the backstop, and Bryne scampered home to lift the score to 2-1.
Braithwaite and Horned Frog reliever Luke Savage shut down their sides in the eighth, and the Mountaineers began to get restless. Savage came out, after 27 pitches and two innings, in lieu of sophomore left-handed pitcher River Ridings in the ninth. That was the change that the Mountaineers needed. Ridings struck out freshman first baseman Grant Hussey, and suddenly, the Mountaineers were two outs away from the season’s 10th loss.
A single from sophomore Ben Abernathy placed a crucial runner on, and a follow-up single from freshman Braden Barry moved runners to the corners. The inning’s second out came shortly after, a strike out of Leonard. One out remained, and WVU was about to take full advantage of the opportunity.
Sophomore McGwire Holbrook, in to pinch hit for Alex Khan, watched as WVU’s stolen bases reputation played out before his eyes.
Barry stole second, WVU’s 94th stolen bag of the season. Holbrook worked the count to 2-2, but before that final pitch could be thrown, the runners made a mad dash.
Abernathy stole home and Barry followed suit from second to take a stunning WVU lead 3-2.
The Horned Frogs weren’t ready to surrender yet. The bottom of the order layered on a pair of walks, and WVU head coach Randy Mazey exchanged Braithwaite for redshirt junior right-handed pitcher Noah Short to get the last three outs. Short ended up loading the bases with two outs; TCU’s leading RBI guy, Bishop pulled the count full before watching the final strike of the game whiz past him.
WVU’s losing streak broken, the Mountaineers converted five hits into three runs. TCU, moved to 18-8, scored its pair of runs on four hits. Braithwaite was awarded the win and Short added the save to his repertoire after 28 pitches and a trio of clutch Ks. Ridings earned the loss.
WVU and TCU will reprise the series tomorrow at 3 p.m. EST at Lupton Baseball Stadium. ESPN+ has the broadcast.