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WVU Baseball Battles Back to Take Gm 1 of Cambria Classic over Minnesota, 5-4

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At U.S. Bank Stadium, home of the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings, the No. 25 West Virginia Mountaineer baseball team battled back to take Game 1 of the 2022 Cambria Classic out of the clutches of the Minnesota Golden Gophers for a 5-4 victory.

In the first time WVU (6-2) has played Minnesota (3-7) since 2012, the meeting with chock-full of action, beginning in the first inning.

WVU took the field armed with sophomore right-handed pitcher Carlson Reed, while the Golden Gophers sent right-handed pitcher Sam Ireland out to throw the first pitch.

Ireland shut down WVU when he needed to, stranding two Mountaineers in scoring position and giving his team a chance quickly.

The number-three hitter, catcher Chase Stanke, proved his worth with a solo bomb to left center field with two outs to put the first point on the board.

WVU couldn’t add any scoring in the second inning either, electing to strand another batter (sophomore left fielder Braden Barry) on second.

Reed got out of the bottom of the second inning in quick work, but the damage had already been done.

In yet another attempt to get a roll going, the Mountaineers, fueled by freshman third baseman JJ Wetherholt and sophomore DH McGwire Holbrook, spent the third inning placing runners on the corners, but even with a second stolen base from Holbrook, a mirror of his first inning play, WVU stranded both to close down the third.

Talk about closing down the third. Reed followed with a 1-2-3 inning, shutting the entire Minnesota offense down.

The Mountaineers played a very conservative fourth inning as well; a Barry walk and subsequent stolen base got a Mountaineer on the base path, but hopes of advancement were squashed when Tevin Tucker flew out to center field for the inning’s final out. Barry became WVU’s sixth runner stranded in scoring position. When Reed took the mound again, head coach Randy Mazey was immediately wishing at least one of those players had come home.

Four batters into the fourth inning, redshirt-senior Easton Bertrand sent a hard-hit single down the right field line that scored Stanke from first for the Golden Gophers’ second run. Reed got the Mountaineers out of the deficit three batters later, but tensions were high. When Reed needed his team’s bats to get hot, though, they delivered; specifically, Holbrook in the clean-up spot.

With two outs, Holbrook skied a home run ball to center field and brought Wetherholt home from first base with him. In one pitch, the Mountaineers had the game tied 2-2.

It seemed as though as solid as Reed was at shutting down the action, the Minnesota bats were just slightly hotter. With one out and runners on the corners, head coach Randy Mazey replaced Reed with right-handed pitcher Noah Short, who subsequently loaded the bases after hitting Stanke. One out and Short in control, the redshirt-junior caused back-to-back fly-outs to the middle of the field to close out the inning and strand all three Minnesota base runners.

Golden Gopher batters were back at in again in the sixth, but they faced right-handed pitcher Zach Ottinger. Unfortunately for the senior, he was no match for Bertrand, who took his pitch yard for an inside the park home run. The 3-2 score was about to get worse when Ottinger was immediately pulled and subbed for fifth year, right-handed pitcher Chase Smith.

Smith couldn’t find a way to ease the onslaught, allowing a stolen base and walking Perry on a full count with one out. A throwing error from Mountaineer sophomore second baseman Mikey Kluska allowed senior Andrew Wilhite to score from second, and the Minnesota lead grew.

Smith was pulled next, allowing fifth year right-handed pitcher Trey Braithwaite onto the mound. He got the Mountaineers out of a sticky bases loaded situation, securing the final out with a Stanke ground-out to Kluska at second.

When the Mountaineers took the field for the seventh inning, the momentum seemed to change. This was the first time in the 2022 season that WVU was down heading into the later innings, and Mazey wasn’t going to allow that.

The Golden Gophers shifted Ireland out after six innings pitched, six hits, two runs, eight Ks, and 27 batters faced, and that was just what the Mountaineers needed. In his place came freshman right-handed pitcher Sam Malec. WVU’s lineup made quick work of him, quickly placing senior right fielder Austin Davis at third and batting him home courtesy of an Victor Scott long single to center field. The gap closed even more three batters later.

The pinch runners came through for WVU. A Holbrook handed single to left field sent Scott to third, and the Mountaineers followed it with sophomore Ben Abernathy’s, in to pinch run for Holbrook, stolen base. Next up, sophomore Nathan Blasick pinch hit for freshman first baseman Grant Hussey, and a single to right field sent Scott barreling home with the tying run.

That 4-4 score stayed consistent for the rest of the seventh and eighth innings.

Three WVU bats into the final inning, it was junior Kevin Dowdell, in for Abernathy, who secured the go-ahead run with a solid single through the right field gap to score Wetherholt from second and secure WVU’s seventh win of 2022, 5-4. Junior right-handed pitcher Jacob Watters came out to close, relieving senior left-handed pitcher Beau Lowery after 0.1 inning in crunch time. Lowery was awarded the win and Watters the save, after shutting down the final Minnesota side in 1-2-3 fashion.

WVU proved its No. 25 national ranking in stolen bases with an additional eight tonight, but the base path wasn’t without error; nine stranded runners is an issue that Mazey will need to contend with heading into the remaining two games of the Cambria Classic. Play resumes tomorrow when the Mountaineers face Illinois at 4 p.m.

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