West Virginia gave the Texas Longhorns everything they could handle Friday night but ultimately had their season end with a hard-fought 3-2 loss.
All year, WVU’s biggest weakness had been its lack of pitching depth and that reared its ugly head again Friday. Playing their fourth game of the week and second game on Friday, the Mountaineers were not flush with options to put on the mound to face Texas.
WVU coach Randy Mazey decided to go unconventional and gave the start to sophomore reliever Jacob Watters (4-1). Watters, a right-hander, was making the first start of his college career after having worked almost exclusively as WVU’s late-inning reliever this season.
“We just told him not to change his routine of getting loose for a game too much,” Mazey said. “He prepared to start the game as he normally does as a reliever.”
Longevity was not in the card for Watters, who began Friday’s contest by pumping 95-plus mile-per-hour fastballs past Texas’s hitters. Watters pitched three hitless innings with eight strikeouts but walked four batters and gave up a run on a wild pitch in the bottom of the third inning.
“I thought he was good enough to help us win the game, which was what we needed,” Mazey said. “That’s good for the future to know that he’s capable of starting games because that guy has the chance to be one of the best pitchers West Virginia’s ever seen.”
On the mound for Texas was freshman left-hander Pete Hansen (7-1). Hansen matched Watters inning for inning, putting zeros on the board in each of the first four frames.
Already leading 1-0, Texas looked poised to blow the game wide open in the bottom of the fourth. Madison Jeffrey came out of WVU’s bullpen to replace Watters and did not have his best command. Jeffrey got two outs, but walked the bases loaded in the process with UT lead-off hitter Mike Antico coming up to hit.
Antico got ahold of a fastball from Jeffrey and hit a line drive that looked like it would easily clear the right-field fence for a grand slam. However, WVU right fielder Austin Davis made a highlight-reel leaping catch at the wall to take the home run away from Antico and end the inning.
AUSTIN DAVIS MAKES AN UNBELIEVABLE CATCH TO ROB A GRAND SLAM!!! 🤯🤯🤯
— WVU Baseball (@WVUBaseball) May 29, 2021
Feeding off the momentum of Davis’s catch, the Mountaineers came out swinging in the top of the fifth inning. After the first two hitters grounded out, Braden Barry hit a double and advanced to third when Davis reached base on a push bunt up the first base line. Davis stole second, setting up designated hitter Matt McCormick. After a six-pitch at-bat, McCormick flicked a ball into left field that scored Barry and Davis and gave WVU a 2-1 lead.
“A lot of times when you’re not swinging the bats very well and. you’ve got nothing going on offense, it really helps to make a great defensive play,” Mazey said. “That momentum just went from their dugout to ours in the matter of one defensive play.”
After a scoreless bottom of the fifth, Mazey wanted to get as much as he could out of Jeffrey and sent him back out for a third inning of work in the sixth. Following a walk and a single, catcher Silas Ardoin roped a double down the right-field line, scoring both runners and giving Texas back its one-run lead, 3-2.
Noah Short and Daniel Ouderkirk combined for 2 2/3 scoreless innings, giving WVU a chance to tie the game in the bottom of the ninth. Ben Abernathy reached third base after pinch-running for Kevin Brophy, but Barry struck out on a high fastball to end the game.
Jeffrey took the loss, allowing two runs in 2 1/3 innings with five walks. Hansen got the win, pitching 6 2/3 innings and giving up just two runs on six hits with nine strikeouts.
For WVU, McCormick finished 2-for-4 with two RBI while Hudson Byorick and Barry both had doubles. For UT, Ardoin’s double was the Longhorn’s only offense as the team only recorded three hits in the game.
With the win, Texas moves on to the Big 12 Championship semifinal while the Mountaineers’ 2021 season comes to an end.