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WVU Baseball Rallies Back, Beats Youngstown State 6-4

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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – West Virginia rallied from three down to record a stunner 6-4 victory against the Youngstown State Penguins on Thursday night. Monongalia County Ballpark set the scene for the 6:30 p.m. first pitch, and the game was off and running.

The Mountaineers (10-8) got on the board first, courtesy of freshman JJ Wetherholt. In the bottom of the first inning, the third baseman smacked a ball out of the park for a solo home run, his third of the season. Youngstown State’s (9-11) right-handed starter John Snyder dealt him the fastball that sailed over the wall.

That early in the game, the Mountaineers were feeling good, but that luck quickly ran out. WVU starter, freshman right-handed pitcher, Michael Kilker ran up his pitch count in the top of the second.

Penguin clean-up hitter Andre Good’s first at-bat sent a hard-hit two-run triple into the outfield, and the Mountaineers were helpless to defend. The Penguins tagged on a sac fly off the bat of senior Steven D’Eusanio to score Good and up the lead to 3-1 in the second inning. Having built momentum, the Penguins stacked together another run in the top of the third after loading the bases and walking in senior Lucas Nasonti on a passed ball in the plate.

West Virginia, a team historically solid at comeback victories, was about to do just that. Down a commanding 4-1, WVU head coach Randy Mazey had tricks up his sleeve, and they were about to pay off.

The bottom of the third saw a sac fly off freshman first baseman Grant Hussey’s bat to score Wetherholt from third and initiate the comeback. The bottom of the fifth then served to exacerbate the Mountaineer momentum.

Youngstown State walked the top of the Mountaineer order’s senior Austin Davis, and Wetherholt followed it up with a hard-hit single to place runners on the corners. On deck: Victor Scott; when the junior center fielder got up to bat, he didn’t even need to swing in order for Davis to come screaming home. Another passed ball at the plate walked Scott, closed the deficit to 4-3, and placed Wetherholt at second base.

The Penguins, in chess-not-checkers form, exchanged Snyder with one of their four resident lefties, Kenny Misik, in hopes of stopping the Mountaineers from tallying another run. Misik went up against WVU’s lefty batter Hussey, having done well against left-handed batters thus far in the season. It wasn’t to be tonight. Misik hit Hussey on the shoulder and loaded the bases. His purpose concluded, Misik was quickly relieved by righty Alex Cardona. The Cardona way didn’t yield the best results for the Penguins either, even walking sophomore catcher McGwire Holbrook and pushing Wetherholt home for his second rendezvous of the night with home plate. Wetherholt became the tying run of the ballgame, and signaled WVU’s third-straight unanswered run.

The Penguins seemed unable to string meaningful at-bats together after that, and Mazey elected to send fifth year righty Zach Bravo to the mound. He pitched himself a 1-2-3 sixth inning and a four-batter seventh to keep the Penguins off the scoreboard.

The bottom of the seventh became a quintessential “Mazey Ball” showing. YSU’s righty Lane Rhodes walked Scott, which proved to be a costly mistake. A balk advanced him to second, and a Holbrook sac fly got him 90 feet away from the go-ahead run. Designated hitter Nathan Blasick was fully intending to bring his teammate home with a well-managed hit, but Scott didn’t need anyone but himself. As soon as the first pitch left Rhodes’ hand, Scott took off running. He slid into home, effectively stealing a run. WVU is No. 3 nationally and leads the Big 12 Conference in stolen bases (67), but stealing home is a trick Mountaineer fans should get used to seeing from this team in clutch situations.

“That’s how we win,” Mazey said. “We run. We force the defense to do things. When those guys are on base, even if they don’t steal, they force the pitcher to do different things, and there were several times today when those guys were on base. They didn’t run, but pitchers pitcher differently than they normally do. Yeah, if we’re going to win, you’ve always got to keep an eye on our guys.”

The Penguins’ four unanswered runs were effectively checkmated with an equal amount from Mazey’s dugout. WVU added on a two-run lead in the bottom of the eighth to confidently close out the win, 6-4. A continuation of the Mountaineer stealing phenomenon manifested when sophomore left fielder Braden Barry walked and subsequently advanced to second and stole third. A squeeze bunt, deemed fielder’s choice, from nine-hole batter, senior shortstop Tevin Tucker sent Barry sprinting home, scoring what would eventually become the final run of tonight’s match-up five outs later.

On the mound, WVU’s Bravo got his first season win after 2.0 innings pitched, a single hit allowed, and 3Ks. Fifth-year righty Trey Braithwaite earned the save after 2.0 innings to shut down the last Penguin batters. In total, West Virginia’s nine innings were split between Kilker; reliever Chris Sleeper, who pitched a third of the game; Bravo; and Braithwaite. They totaled four runs allowed on eight hits and 12 Ks.

“Our bullpen throws way more innings than our starters do,” Mazey said. “When you’re down 4-1 in the third inning and come back and win 6-4, the credit goes to the bullpen, because if [Youngstown State] gets to 5-1 or 6-1, it makes it way more difficult. Being able to hold them right there was huge for us.”

Youngstown State’s Rhodes earned the loss, his first of the season.

With tonight’s win, WVU moves to 11-8 and 23-8 in the series; Youngstown State’s two-game win streak ends as the Penguins move to 9-12. They’ll have two more chances at redemption tomorrow. This weekend’s Friday and Saturday games are set to be combined into one double-header tomorrow. First pitch of the series’ second game will be at 11 a.m. at Monongalia County Ballpark.

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