It has not taken long for true freshman Mikey Kluska to make his mark on West Virginia baseball. The White Sulphur Springs native hit his second walk-off of the season Saturday evening as the Mountaineers defeated No. 7 Texas Tech 6-5 in Morgantown.
With the game tied at five in the bottom of the ninth, Kluska walked to the plate with the bases loaded and no outs as Texas Tech brought in a fifth infielder looking to keep the Mountaineers off the board. Kluska took a hack but at the first pitch of the at-bat, but came up empty on a fastball from TTU reliever Ryan Sublette.
On the fourth pitch of the at-bat, with two strikes, Kluska hit a rocket right at first baseman Cole Stilwell. Stilwell did not field the ball cleanly, however, and could not throw home before pinch-runner Ben Abernathy crossed the plate to give WVU the 6-5 win.
— WVU Baseball (@WVUBaseball) April 18, 2021
“I haven’t been hitting my best these past few games so I’ve just been trying to not think about anything and just go up there and be reactive,” Kluska said after the game. “That was my approach, just put the ball in play, see something well and do whatever I could to get that win for us.”
Kluska said it was the first time he had ever hit against a five-man infield. WVU coach Randy Mazey wanted Kluska to try and hit a ball up in the air and into the outfield.
“It’s kind of ironic, we won the game on a ground ball in the infield with a five-man infield. That usually probably doesn’t happen,” Mazey said. “You tell him to try and get something up in the zone that you can drive to the outfield.”
The play was ruled a walk-off fielder’s choice and while it was not as dramatic as Kluska’s walk-off home run from earlier this season, it helped WVU (14-15, 5-6 Big 12) even its three-game weekend series against the Red Raiders (25-9, 6-6) at one win apiece. Saturday’s game was one the Mountaineers really had no business winning, according to Mazey. Mountaineer pitchers walked seven Texas Tech batters and plunked six more.
“We talk to them all the time about limiting the amount of free bases we give them,” Mazey said. “Usually, if you give a team like that 13 free bases, there’s little to no chance you’re going to win that game. Fortunately, we battled and grinded pretty good offensively and ended up scoring one more than they did.”
WVU jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the first two innings, thanks to three Red Raider errors and an RBI single by right fielder Austin Davis. TTU got one run back with their own run-scoring single in the fourth to make it a 3-1 game.
After that, however, the fifth and sixth innings were disasters for the Mountaineer pitching staff. WVU starter Adam Tulloch walked and hit a batter to lead off the top of the fifth before being pulled for reliever Zach Ottinger. TTU scored a run on a sacrifice fly before Ottinger got out of the inning, making the game 3-2 without even needing a hit.
The Mountaineers went back up 4-2 thanks to an RBI hit from Kluska in the bottom of the fifth, but the worst was still to come. Ottinger hit the first two batters he faced in the top of the sixth and walked the third to load the bases. Mazey then turned to reliever Noah Short, who also hit two batters and walked another, allowing the Red Raiders to scored three runs and take a 5-4 lead without a single hit. The only good news for the Mountaineers was that Texas Tech could not add on any insurance and was only up by one run.
The score stayed at 5-4 until the bottom of the eighth. WVU center fielder Victor Scott worked a walk and advanced all the way to third on a single by left fielder Hudson Byorick. The next batter, catcher Paul McIntosh, shot a ground ball through the left side of the infield, scoring Scott and trying the game at 5-5.
“Situational hitting sounds easy, but hitting is hard enough,” Mazey said. “You just need to do what you know how to do and drive balls into the middle of the field.”
Reliever Jacob Watters was able to pitch scoreless eighth and ninth innings, giving WVU the chance to win the game in the bottom of the ninth. Watters (2-0, 1.54) was credited with the win as WVU starter Adam Tulloch allowed two earned runs over four innings with two strikeouts. Texas Tech only used two pitchers as Sublette (4-1, 3.38) took the loss, allowing two runs in 2 2/3 innings of work. Starter Micah Dallas gave up three earned runs in 5 1/3 innings with three strikeouts.
Kluska finished 1 for 5 with two RBI. McIntosh and Davis both had two hits and an RBI. For Texas Tech, right fielder Easton Murrell and shortstop Cal Conley both had two hits and an RBI.
West Virginia and Texas Tech will conclude their weekend series with the rubber match Sunday at Mon County Ballpark. The first pitch is scheduled for 1 p.m. as WVU’s Ben Hampton (3-0, 3.10) will face Texas Tech starter Mason Montgomery (1-1, 4.13).