It was a tough day all around for the West Virginia Mountaineer baseball team.
Game 4 of the Phillips 66 Big 12 Baseball Championship pitted the 6-seed Mountaineers against a 3-seed Oklahoma Sooner team that has hit its stride as of late, in a big way. That was demonstrated again tonight at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Tx.
West Virginia entered the game tied at 33-20 with the Sooners, but Oklahoma was ahead a game in-conference. When the two teams met in the regular season, the Mountaineers were outscored 40-17. Oklahoma brought that vigor into the postseason, tallying six runs on nine hits tonight.
West Virginia sent right-handed starter Jacob Watters to the mound, and after stranding runners on the corners in the first inning, it seemed as though the Mountaineer defense could stave off the Oklahoma onslaught until later innings. The later innings never came.
When the Mountaineer defense arrived in the second inning, the Sooner bats stitched together small ball plays to load the bases. A lead-off single from Wallace Clark was followed by a walk of Big 12 All-Freshman Team member Jackson Nicklaus. Clark gained a base and then used a Brett Squires fly-out to advance to the opposite corner.
A 3-1 walk of Kendall Pettis rendered the bases loaded with a single out, and it was the top of the Oklahoma order’s John Spikerman who secured the first RBI of the night: a single that plated Clark and reloaded the base path. WVU head coach Randy Mazey visited the mound after his team went down a run, but elected not to pull Watters. Oklahoma’s Peyton Graham would make him regret that.
The second pitch he saw, Graham sent careening out into the stands, clearing the bases for a whopping grand slam and 5-0 ballgame. The Mountaineers escaped the second inning otherwise unscathed, but were already working with a major offensive penalty.
Sooner right-handed reliever Carson Atwood got the first start of his career tonight and made it count. He sat the Mountaineer order down in the first without a hit and in 1-2-3 fashion in the second. His third inning appearance proved a similar result, facing five batters and forcing a strikeout pair.
West Virginia reliever Carlson Reed saw his outing begin in the third inning, but Watters had left back-to-back walks on the base path. When Graham arrived for his second at-bat of the night, Reed struck him out for the inning’s final out, a significantly different outcome than his first time up. Reed had a great night on the mound; through 4.1 innings, he kept the Sooners to one run on three hits, collecting five Ks along the way.
The Sooners added a sole run in the fourth on a Tanner Tredaway single that scored Blake Robertson to up the score to 6-0. That score would stick until the top of the eighth inning, though the Sooners were incredibly close to tacking on more runs in their side of the seventh. Between Reed and Zach Ottinger, the Mountaineer pitchers walked three of four batters faced to start the inning and load the bases. At the perfect time, the second inning came back around to bite the Mountaineers. Up to bat against Ottinger, Graham looked out at a full base path. Ottinger sat him down looking for the inning’s second out, a huge momentum shift for the Mountaineers.
With two innings of work to be done and six runs to get even, the Mountaineers began to stage a bit of a comeback. JJ Wetherholt started the inning with a lead-off single, and McGwire Holbrook moved him to third with a double, the only one of the ballgame. When Dayne Leonard came up to bat, a wild pitch hit the backstop and slow rolled away from Sooner catcher Jimmy Crooks. While Crooks was getting to the ball, Wetherholt came home from third base for West Virginia’s first run of the game.
Down 6-1 and with three more outs standing between a spot in the winner’s and loser’s brackets, Grant Hussey and Wetherholt found their shots. The West Virginia first baseman got hold of a one-out bomb to cut the deficit to 6-2, his 11th home run of the season. Three batters and an out on the board later, fellow freshman Wetherholt smacked a home run of his own, a fifth on the season, into the stands. He trailed Austin Davis home to cut the deficit to a concerning 6-4, but a one-out buffer wasn’t enough, and the 6-4 score proved final.
Sans grand slam, the Mountaineers and Sooners played a similar brand of baseball tonight. WVU’s four runs came from 10 hits. Oklahoma’s six runs came from nine hits, all of which were either singles or home runs. Small ball both won and lost tonight, but it was the Sooners who emerged victorious. Reliever Carter Campbell’s mid-game pair of innings earned him the win tonight (3-0), while WVU’s Jacob Watters was handed his seventh loss (3-7) after two innings, five runs on six hits allowed, and a trio of strikeouts.
The Oklahoma Sooners will now advance to face 2-seed Texas Tech today, while West Virginia awaits their loser’s bracket opponent.