A nail-biter in Norman gave way for the Mountaineers this afternoon, as the 29-19 (10-9) West Virginia baseball team took the middle game of the series from No. 21 Oklahoma (30-17, 12-7).
Today’s 9-8 final marked the first time the West Virginia program has won at L. Dale Mitchell Park since Apr. 24, 2016. In 2022, WVU’s first win of the weekend was spurred on by RBI doubles and two-out connections.
It took until the third inning to get the ball rolling for either side, as WVU southpaw Ben Hampton and Sooner righty David Sandlin kept the spray minimal. Hampton’s first three batters faced went three-up, three-down, and Sandlin forced the same outcome from his second inning dealings.
When he came back to the mound in the third, Sandlin faced first baseman Grant Hussey, who got to first on a strikeout, and Austin Davis, who singled and moved Hussey a bag further. JJ Wetherholt then used an RBI single to score Hussey and move Davis 90 feet away. Victor Scott piled on the connections with a sac fly to center field that scored Davis and hoisted the Mountaineers up a commanding 2-0.
That lead was short-lived.
After opening the third inning with a walk to Max McGwire and a single by Kendall Pettis, Hampton watched in slow-motion as a 3-1 count turned into a three-run home run off the bat of Tanner Tredaway. The Sooners stormed back in one swing of the bat, taking a 3-2 lead. It would prove the final lead Oklahoma would claim in this ballgame, though the jostling for position would begin immediately after.
The fourth inning saw Mountaineer bats add two more runs in a clutch situation. With Hussey at second, Dayne Leonard at third, and two outs on the board, the bottom of the order’s Tevin Tucker smacked a 2RBI double to the right field warning track. Tucker’s hit reset the bases and brought the Mountaineer lead back. The team would continue to add runs in the fifth inning as well.
Scott doubled down the right field line, singlehandedly placing himself in scoring position. Again two outs on the board, in the fifth, Braden Barry brought Scott home with a double, his 18th RBI of the season. The now-extended 5-3 WVU lead came from eight hits, and neither team was slowing down on either side of the ball.
Hampton forced three ground ball outs in the bottom of the inning; Sandlin shut down the Mountaineer bats in his side of the sixth. When West Virginia returned to the plate in the seventh, Sandlin was replaced by southpaw Chazz Martinez. He registered a Scott groundout before McGwire Holbrook stepped up. A familiar two outs shined from the scoreboard as the WVU catcher centered himself in the box. Holbrook saw a ball he liked, and connected, sending it right up the middle for an RBI single that scored Wetherholt from third base.
As is the case in Big 12 conference play, no lead is ever safe, even the 6-3 Mountaineer variety.
The home side of the eighth inning saw Hampton exit and righty reliever, and recent WVU graduate, Noah Short hit Pettis and force a foul out of Tredaway before also leaving. Short was replaced after two batters by fellow graduate, righty closer Trey Braithwaite. The first Sooner Braithwaite faced was Peyton Graham. Last night, Graham finished with three runs and a pair of hits. He would add to his productivity tonight with his 13th home run of the season. It skyed more than 410 feet out of the ballpark. Graham trotted home behind Pettis to dramatically close the gap to 6-5. This was the first home run given up by Braithwaite in 2022, but not to fear. His Mountaineer offense popped the score back open in the eighth.
Hussey got aboard after being hit by a Martinez pitch, and a quick pitching change to Carson Atwood later, moved to second. Atwood dealt Tucker the walk that moved Hussey forward, as well as an RBI single to Austin Davis. A mad dash home ensued as Hussey charged the plate, and he got home in time. A 7-5 lead in hand, the Mountaineers would once more be tested in the bottom of the inning.
Braithwaite started the inning off with a four-pitch walk to Crooks and a single to John Spikerman, both of whom advanced on a Mountaineer infield blunder. Clark notched an RBI of his own next, when he sacrificed a grounder that scored Crooks from third. A single out on the board and Oklahoma applying the pressure to a now-7-6 ballgame could have proven disastrous.
Fortunately, a 3-2 count on pinch hitter Sebastian Orduno turned into a smoking line drive right to Tevin Tucker at shortstop. Tucker caught the ball for the second out and stepped on third base to get Spikerman off the bag for the third. The unassisted double play got West Virginia out of a bind and brought the 7-6 game into its final frame.
Bookended by a Wetherholt strikeout and a Holbrook fly-out, Scott proved vital once more in the inning’s top. He singled into right field and stayed, closing his book 3-for-4 today. With two outs, Barry stepped up to face Atwood and smacked a two-run home run out of the ballpark. He trailed Scott on the way home, taking a 9-6 lead. Seven of the Mountaineers’ nine hits this game came in two-out scenarios.
When the Sooners took over, the lineup staged a last-ditch come back. Tredaway reached on a rare fielding error by Hussey, and Graham singled to place runners in concerning places. Blake Robertson followed through on that promise with a double that scored Tredaway and moved Graham 90 feet away from an eighth run. He would come home moments later for the Sooners’ last run, on a ground ball from pinch hitter Brett Squires. The nail-biter 9-8 West Virginia lead would prove final after Braithwaite forced the game’s last out on a ground ball.
Mountaineer Nation exhaled as soon as Tucker fielded the dribbler, and the series officially tied in Norman. Braithwaite earned his seventh save of 2022, while starter Hampton got his seventh win (7-4). The loss issued Oklahoma’s starter Sandlin his third (5-3).
On offense, WVU’s nine runs came from 14 hits, while OU’s eight runs came from as many connections. Yesterday’s 15-1 WVU loss was, mostly, forgotten, and the rubber match is set for 1 p.m. tomorrow.