The story of today’s rubber match quickly turned from a West Virginia-won series for the first time since 2014 to a heroic come-from-behind Oklahoma victory.
At L. Dale Mitchell Park in Norman, Ok., the No. 24 Sooners (30-18, 12-8) welcomed the West Virginia Mountaineers (30-19, 11-9) for a Friday afternoon game in the sweltering heat. The series tied, WVU was gunning for a tie with Oklahoma for fourth place in the Big 12. It appeared as though they might just get the win they needed.
Then Oklahoma rallied together five runs in both the fourth and fifth innings, and hopes of a WVU series win were dashed.
West Virginia came out swinging today, adding the game’s first run in the opening inning. With two outs, Victor Scott laid down a triple and was brought the remaining 90 feet by a McGwire Holbrook double into left center.
After being sat down in order in the bottom of the first by freshman right-handed starter Aidan Major, the Sooners plated three in the second. Major’s fourth batter faced, Tanner Tredaway, smacked his fifth home run of the season over the left center field wall to even the score. Two batters later, another shot left the ballpark. This time… off the bat of last night’s pinch hitter Brett Squires. His home run also scored Jimmy Crooks, who had a double to his name.
The top of the third inning issued in what almost seemed like a cooling down of the Oklahoma defense. Right-handed starter Cade Horton allowed a JJ Wetherholt single, hit Scott with a pitch, and earned a pitch clock violation-induced walk of Holbrook to load the bases with one out. RBI machine Braden Barry faced Horton next and placed a sac fly by his first plate appearance of the game. His 21st RBI of the season scored Wetherholt to ease the deficit to 3-2.
Major cut off the Sooners in the bottom of the inning, forcing a pop-up, groundout, and fly-out to sit his side down. He seemed to be gelling well against a non-mid-week opponent.
Then the fourth inning started.
WVU added four insurance runs in the top, tying and taking the lead 6-3. Dayne Leonard lead off the inning with a double, and Grant Hussey’s single moved runners to the corners. The bottom of the order’s man of the weekend Tevin Tucker came in to add an RBI single to his stat line. That connection moved Hussey to second base and scored Leonard for the tie. Horton exited the game after three innings, five runs on eight hits, and a pair of strikeouts. In his place: reliever Ben Abram. The Mountaineer bats hit well on the righty.
Austin Davis secured a single and Wetherholt sent Hussey and Davis careening home on a 2RBI double down the right field line. Five straight West Virginia hits and zero outs on the board saw Abram get yanked and fellow righty Trevin Michael, who would close the game three innings later, take his place. Holbrook singled on Michael, and the ball sent to the shortstop caught Wetherholt. In the chaos at shortstop, Davis came home to bump up the lead to a reasonably comfortable 6-3 advantage.
After walking the bottom of the innings’ lead-off batter Wallace Clark, Major was pulled. Three innings, four runs on three hits, and no strikeouts wasn’t a bad day for the freshman in Big 12 play. He forced eight fly-outs in his 66 pitches, and the WVU defense seemed to be holding tight. Major’s replacement, righty reliever Zach Ottinger, didn’t have the same kind of day.
His first pair of batters faced, Squires and Diego Muniz, hit back-to-back RBI singles. Squires got to second and Clark came home on a WVU error to plate OU’s fourth run, and Muniz’s at-bat brought Squires home in turn. A 6-5 ballgame still pointed in West Virginia’s favor, but after a third-straight Oklahoma hit, Ottinger was relieved by righty Chase Smith.
The tying and go-ahead OU runs were scored on an error and a wild pitch, respectively, as Smith walked big-time hitter Peyton Graham. Smith issued Blake Robertson a walk immediately after, and Graham stole second and third to place runners on the Oklahoma corners. Graham’s forward thinking paid off when teammate Tredaway reached on a fielder’s choice and brought him home to the tune of an 8-6 Oklahoma lead. Four runs in the top of the inning and five in the bottom made for an entertaining, tightly-fought ballgame.
WVU even pulled within one in the top of the fifth. Leonard was issued a walk on a full count, and an RBI right field double from Hussey brought the score to 8-7. WVU trailed, but the Oklahoma defense was about to load the bases with a single out. Tucker walked and Davis was hit by a pitch to render the base path full. Wetherholt and Scott, the 2- and 3-hole hitters, added back-to-back strikeouts though, and the inning’s go-ahead runners were retired on their bases.
Meanwhile, Oklahoma was still cooking. Clark and Squires placed themselves on the corners with a pair of singles, and Clark stole home in a disastrously-fielded play at the plate. Muniz singled directly after, sending Squires to third and runners to the corners for the second time in as many batters. The space between pitcher and catcher proved an issue once more for the Mountaineers, when Kendall Pettis laid down an RBI bunt. Pettis ended up at first and Squires scored with the play. WVU’s fourth pitcher of the game, righty Chris Sleeper, came in to relieve Smith shortly after. The damage would continue with the turnover of the order.
John Spikerman sat down another bunt, sacrificing himself to move Pettis to second and Muniz to third. Graham aimed his own sacrifice at Tucker’s shortstop position, and Muniz came home for the 11th run of the Sooners’ afternoon. Two more would score in quick secession. A pair of outs didn’t seem to bother Robertson, as he smoked an RBI double to plate Pettis. Robertson was brought home by a clutch single from Tredaway directly after. For the second consecutive inning, Oklahoma plated five. The combination of Smith and Sleeper faced nine batters in the fifth, and on the Oklahoma mound, Michael only faced three to start the sixth.
Michael would reprise that role in the seventh, but not before his offense knocked in two additional runs. Muniz popped an RBI single into the outfield that scored Squires all the way from first for the team’s 14th run, and Muniz would come home himself on a Spikerman ground-rule double.
At that juncture, multiple threats loomed for the Mountaineers. A game cut off by flight-time-induced curfew came from one angle, while a 10-run game conclusion came from another. In the end, it was the latter which prevailed.
The home side of the seventh saw two different Mountaineer righty relievers: Michael Kilker and closer Ben Abernathy. Kilker allowed a lead-off walk of Robertson and hit Tredaway with a pitch. When Abernathy, who would become the game’s final pitching change, entered, he forced a pop-up, but balked to score Robertson and move Clark into scoring position. A run away from being outscored by 10, the Mountaineers couldn’t evade the push. Squires singled in Clark for the Sooners’ 17th, and winning, run, and the game was called.
The 17-7 final issued WVU’s Ottinger the loss (2-2) and Oklahoma’s closer Michael his fourth win (4-1). OU outhit West Virginia 15-12, converting 17 runs to seven of the Mountaineers’. Wetherholt and Holbrook contributed 2 RBIs a-piece for WVU, but were outpaced by Tredaway and Squires, who brought in three each for the Sooners. At the Mountaineer plate, it was Davis, Holbrook, and Leonard who each ended the day 2-for-3.
This West Virginia lineup will look to close out the conference schedule on a high note this weekend when the Kansas State Wildcats (27-23, 8-13) come to Monongalia County Ballpark; Friday’s night under the lights is set to begin at 6:30 p.m.