MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – It was like deja-vu under the Monongalia County Ballpark lights tonight. Yesterday’s thorough routing of the 27-25 (8-14) Kansas State Wildcats left a 31-20 (12-10) West Virginia Mountaineer team feeling confident. In nearly its entirety, tonight’s box score mimicked last night’s action.
WVU strung together 14 hits for a combined 15 dominant runs, while K-State’s four runs came from six hits. There was no doubt that WVU would take the series tonight, but the fashion in which it occurred made for a good night of conference baseball.
On the mound, West Virginia’s southpaw Ben Hampton dealt a strong first three innings. For Kansas State, right-handed starter German Fajardo pitched his way out of a Mountaineer lineup intent on racking up a serious score. Fajardo stood tall until the third inning.
He walked JJ Wetherholt and a Victor Scott single moved the top of the lineup forward. A wild pitch later, Wetherholt stood at third and Scott at second. McGwire Holbrook faced Fajardo, but added a sac fly to his scoreline tonight. It scored Wetherholt and placed Scott 90 feet away; the latter would come the remaining distance five pitches later. Braden Barry smoked his sixth home run of the season out of left field and trotted home behind Scott to the tune of a 3-0 Mountaineer lead.
Hope of a Wildcat redemption was put to bed when Hampton served the middle of the K-State lineup a 1-2-3 fourth inning.
Though the Wildcat bats had yet to do the numbers, the Mountaineer bats were putting on yet another sharp night. An eight-run fourth inning was about to unfold. Mikey Kluska secured the first out with a routine grounder, but Fajardo proceeded to walk Tevin Tucker and Austin Davis; the shortstop promptly stole second… and then third. A Kansas State throwing error scored Tucker and Fajardo followed that up by hitting Wetherholt and walking Scott. Fajardo exited and reliever Blake Corsentino arrived on the mound, but the righty was in for a mess.
He sent a ball to Holbrook that became an RBI single. Wetherholt and Davis scored on the hit and Scott stole third. Barry reached on a fielder’s choice that scored Scott the remaining base. Dayne Leonard doubled and brought Barry in from first for the Mountaineers’ eighth run of the night. Corsentino walked Grant Hussey and a wild pitch placed Leonard on the opposite corner. He wouldn’t stay there for long.
Kluska put bat to ball next, singling and scoring Leonard; the runners on the corners would both come in with the next swing of the bat. Tucker, having a breakout night, tripled to score both Kluska and Hussey for an impressive 11-0 Mountaineer lead.
“I think during the season, it’s a lot of ups and downs,” Tucker said. “You just kind of try to stay as level-headed as you can. Some things will go good. Some things will go bad, but my dad always tells me to just stay level-headed.”
Regarding turning his triple into an inside-the-park home run, Tucker continued, “A little kid earlier told me before the game to hit a home run, so I was like, ‘Ehh. Should I run home?’ Coach Sab[ins] said no.”
The Wildcats rallied in the fifth. Two singles from Justin Mitchell and Dominic Johnson gained K-State its first and second hits of the game. Both would come home shortly after, courtesy of a Cash Rugely triple. Now down 11-2, K-State just couldn’t string together hits. Add a good day on the bump for West Virginia’s Hampton, and the Wildcats were in for a fight. Hampton came out in the sixth and shut down Kansas State in 10 pitches.
His offense was still cooking. WVU added four runs in the sixth, an inning which began less than advantageously. Leonard and Hussey kicked it off with back-to-back swinging strikeouts, but two-out territory is all but foreign for this Mountaineer lineup. Kluska doubled to start the base-rounding. Back-to-back singles from the flipping of the lineup card continued the hit streak. Tucker’s single scored Kluska for West Virginia’s 12th run. Both Davis and Tucker would soon come home, this time courtesy of a Wetherholt double. Scott added a single of his own that scored Wetherholt from third for the 15th run and the 13th hit.
Hampton was swapped in the seventh inning for Ben Abernathy. The first batter Abernathy faced, Cole Johnson, smacked a home run over the wall in left center. Johnson only added a single run with his bomb, but Abernathy was feeling the heat. When the righty reliever reprised his role in the eighth, he allowed a second solo home run, off Nick Goodwin. The shortstop scored the game’s final run, solidifying yet another 15-4 final. Abernathy remained on the bump until the ninth, when he made way for right-handed closer Trent Hodgdon. The freshman retired a four-batter inning, including a three-pitch K of Orlando Salinas for the final out.
Hodgdon joined a trio of pitchers which allowed four runs on five hits. Starter Hampton earned his eighth win of the season (8-4). The combination of K-State’s Fajardo, Corsentino, and lefty closer Wesley Moore allowed 14 Mountaineer hits for 15 runs, stranding 11 WVU base runners in the process; the Wildcat trio threw an astounding 236 pitches tonight.
Tonight’s conference takedown moves West Virginia to 13-10 in the Big 12, tied for most Big 12 Conference wins in a single season (2019). Tomorrow’s regular season finale means even more for the postseason’s implications. If WVU can pull off the sweep, it will be the most conference wins since joining the Big 12 in 2013.
“If you get the culture right and the chemistry right in the locker room, that’s when players play well, and it’s kind of what we’re doing right now,” West Virginia head coach Randy Mazey said after his team put together 30 runs in the series’ pair of games.
Tomorrow’s Senior Day festivities are set to begin at 11:40 a.m. ahead of a 12 p.m. first pitch.