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Packed House Watches No. 24 WVU Baseball Fall to No. 3 Oklahoma State 2-1

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MORGANTOWN, W.Va – Terrific pitching and base path blunders were the names of the game tonight, as the WVU baseball team (21-10, 5-1) welcomed the Oklahoma State Cowboys (24-9, 7-2) to a packed Monongalia County Ballpark.

“I hated to be a coach today,” WVU head coach Randy Mazey said. “I wish I was a fan, because if you’re a fan of college baseball, you just got treated to one of the best games you’ll ever see. That was well-pitched, well-defended. The offense did great to get the hits they got against the two pitchers they faced. Those are two of the best pitchers in all of college baseball going head-to-head. [Oklahoma State was] firing bullets out of the bullpen like nobody else has. Watters pitched great. Sleeper pitched great. That’s just a great game. It’s just a shame the Mountaineers had to lose it.”

A season-high 3,291 fans filled the stands and berms, but the Mountaineer faithful were met with a hard-fought, yet still bittersweet 2-1 final.

Excellent pitching out of the gate by both sides sped the game along. Junior right-handed pitcher Jacob Watters took the mound for the Mountaineers and sat down the sides in the first, second, and fourth, and Oklahoma State’s sophomore right-handed pitcher Justin Campbell was even stronger, setting down the Mountaineer sides in the first and sixth innings. In Campbell’s seven innings pitched, he struck eight batters out, stimying any kind of small-ball Mountaineer string.

The Mountaineers couldn’t get the job done in a big way either, scoring the team’s sole run in the bottom of the eighth, four batters into OSU right-handed reliever Roman Phansalkar’s outing. Senior Austin Davis shot a line drive at second baseman Hueston Morrill; Morrill bobbled the ball on a slide, allowing Davis to tally the team’s seventh, and final, hit. After getting caught stealing, in the sixth for only the fifth time this season, Davis’ pointed advancements could have easily stalled. Instead, the eighth inning brought Davis home, courtesy of a sac fly from junior Victor Scott, in the eighth after stealing both second and third. A 2-1 deficit would finalize the score, but the low-scoring game was not indicative of a lack of action.

Prior to the eighth, the Cowboys had adjusted well to Watters’ talents, finally getting the ball rolling in the third inning. The bottom of the order first propelled a double, off the bat of junior Brett Brown. Watters attempted to quiet Oklahoma State’s offensive presence on the bath path with a strikeout and a cleanly-fielded groundout, but with one out left, the Cowboys had other plans. The top of the order’s Caeden Trenkle knocked in his 22nd RBI of the season with a quick single that scored Brown, taking the Cowboy lead 1-0.

The Mountaineer defense was playing tight and effective, limiting a normally high-flying offense to a single run-lead until the seventh.

“First of all, the confidence is through the roof because of the defense I have behind me and the ability we have to score late in the game, especially in a one-run, two-run ballgame,” Watters said. “Playing against a team like that is fun for me. First of all, the hitters, it’s more fun for me when you know they’re going to be aggressive at the plate. It’s more fun for me to pitch out there knowing that I’m facing somebody that’s one of the top pitchers in the nation. It just adds a little bit more competitiveness in there, and makes it more fun for me.”

Watters had thrown more than a hundred pitches when sophomore Nolan McLean stepped up to bat, and was on track to walk him on a 3-1 count. McLean, instead, smacked a solo home run into left center, raising the Oklahoma State lead to 2-0.

Unfortunately for the Mountaineers, that lead could have easily been in their favor had the bats and base running been more forgiving. On the mound, Watters secured his career-tying eighth strikeout in the sixth inning, but a lack of base running power from his offense served to unhinge the Mountaineer game plan.

“In a game like that, every opportunity that you don’t score on is pivotal. We had chances to move runners and didn’t do it, and it’s hard to go through a season without making mistakes. Kids make mistakes, but they do great things as well, so you can do two things. You can have success or you can have learning opportunities. Failure is a learning opportunity, so if we’re in those situations again, I’ve got all the faith in the world that my guys will come through.”

In the bottom of the seventh, the Mountaineers staged an attack. Sophomores McGwire Holbrook and Braden Barry combined for back-to-back hits; Holbrook lead off the inning with a strong single into left field, and Barry hit a double down the left field line and advanced to third on the throw. Had Barry not advanced, the Mountaineers would have had two runners in scoring position with no outs. Instead, Barry was left on third and Holbrook was caught by catcher Chase Adkison coming home. In the heat of the moment, WVU third base coach Steve Sabins sent Holbrook sprinting home, but the throw from left field got home far before his legs did. To add insult to Mountaineer injury, Campbell walked pinch hitter Nathan Blasick, for what could have been a bases loaded, no-out situation for the Mountaineers. Blasick at first and Barry at third remained as such when the remaining two outs of the inning, strikeouts of Grant Hussey and Mikey Kluska failed to improve the Mountaineer base advancement.

“That’s just baseball,” Mazey said. “We’re an aggressive team… When you make outs at home plate, it seems like it gets magnified, but that’s the type of offense we have. We’re going to force people to play defense against us and they made a great defensive play.”

The 2-1 final saw Oklahoma State starter Campbell (7IP-6H-0R-8K-94P) get his fifth win of the season (5-1) and reliever McLean his second save. Mountaineer starter Watters evened his record at 2-2 with the loss. All five pitchers combined to throw 20 strikeouts and force 17 routine fly-outs.

Tonight’s final moves West Virginia to 21-11, 5-2 in conference, and 12-21 all-time against the Cowboys. They will be seeking redemption tomorrow when West Virginia and Oklahoma State clash for the middle game at 4 p.m. at Monongalia County Ballpark.

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