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WVU Baseball Uses Ninth Inning Walk-Off Walk to Beat Baylor 7-6



MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Clear skies. Torrential downpours. Snow. Hail. A 15-minute rain delay. A walk-off walk. This game had it all.

The WVU Baseball team (17-10, 2-1) welcomed the Baylor Bears (16-12, 2-4) to Monongalia County Ballpark on Friday afternoon for the series opener. The Mountaineers are 11-14 against the Big 12 foes, and it appeared as though the team would move to 11-15, until the bottom of the ninth inning.

After dealing a 1-2-3 first inning, WVU starter, junior right-handed pitcher Jacob Watters, had a difficult outing. His second inning showing worked the Bears into a full base path loaded by walks. Fortunately, a key strikeout and the rest of the infield’s double play fielding got the Mountaineer defense out of a jam.

WVU’s offensive presence got on the board first, in the second inning. A lead-off double into left field from sophomore McGwire Holbrook was followed by a clutch bunt from sophomore Braden Barry that moved runners to the corners. Barry stole second and put two runners in scoring position, and the bottom of the WVU order came through. A 2 RBI double from fellow sophomore Mikey Kluska brought both Holbrook and Barry in to claim a 2-0 lead. An RBI single from senior Austin Davis then brought Kluska home and heightened the score to 3-0.

That lead was far from safe.

Watters faced the top of Baylor’s order in the third inning and watched the bases fill with a single and two walks. With no outs on the board and ducks on the pond, Baylor sent out a sophomore brigade to convert. Jared McKenzie connected on a single to score Alex Gonzales, and the lineup’s next shot came a few pitches later, a single off the bat of Kyle Nevin that scored both junior Jack Pineda and Tre Richardson to tie the game at threes.

Baylor’s defense was also dealing. Senior left-handed starter Tyler Thomas sat down the Mountaineer side in the bottom of the third, allowing the offense to lay the pressure on Watters,

Senior Esteban Cardoza-Oquendo lead off the fourth, capitalizing on a ball hit to left field to get on base. He then stole second, and a Gonzales bunt put runners on the corners with no outs. The top of the order’s Pineda took the opportunity and scored Cardoza-Oquendo off a double. Gonzales came home shortly after to shift the momentum of the game to 5-3 Baylor.

That lead, too, would soon shrink… and it only took one Mountaineer bat. Holbrook, coming off a double in the second inning, kept the bats hot in the fourth with a home run ball 399 feet into left center.

“I thought so, at least,” Holbrook said of the assurance that his hit would go over the fence. “I saw the outfielder kind of running for it, and I was like, it’s either going to be a double or a homer, so might as well just stick to the jog.”

A 5-4 deficit was where the Mountaineers would sit until the top of the sixth.

With redshirt junior right-hander Noah Short on the mound for the Mountaineers, Nevin and Baylor’s 5-hole hitter, fifth year Chase Wehsener, got on bases courtesy of Mountaineer fielding inadequacies. Nevin would score off a routine, RBI single from freshman Casen Neumann, extending the Baylor lead to 6-4.

Thomas left the game after 5.0 innings pitched, seven hits, four runs, six Ks, and 104 pitches, in lieu of right-handed reliever Adam Muirhead. The sophomore sat the Mountaineers down in the sixth and seventh, placing West Virginia in a bind.

In the bottom of the eighth, Thomas exited, welcoming the Bears’ closer, freshman right-handed pitcher Mason Marriott. The top of WVU’s order got the break it needed. Davis singled up the middle and was promptly brought home by a JJ Wetherholt double that hit the left field wall. Scott was hit by a pitch, and Ben Abernathy, pinch hitting for freshman Grant Hussey, bunted to load the bases. Holbrook, ready to make another solid move, settled for a fielder’s choice opportunity, but Wetherholt’s advancement was ruled out at home. In a precursor to the way the game would end, the game would tie off a walk from Barry that scored Scott and brought the game level at six.

With the potential of extras in the snow looming, WVU deployed fifth year closer Trey Braithwaite. The righty was coming off being named WVU Student-Athlete of the Week and Big 12 Newcomer of the Week, and he proved his worth tonight. A walk and three straight outs later, the Mountaineers had one final opportunity, and three more outs, to take home the W.

Kluska lead off the ninth with a hard-hit single and advanced on a wild pitch before being exchanged on the base path for junior Kevin Dowdell. A sac bunt from Tevin Tucker could have advanced Dowdell even closer to the winning run, but a miscommunication between he and third base coach Steve Sabins kept him from advancing.

It was in that moment that things began to fall apart for Baylor’s Marriott on the mound. He walked both Davis and Wetherholt on 4-0 counts to load the bases. He struck out Scott for the inning’s second, and it appeared as though the Mountaineers might strand all three runners… until sophomore Nathan Blasick stepped up to the plate. His seventh RBI of the season came without connecting. He worked Marriott into a full count and watched the final pitch of the evening fall below his knees. The walk scored Dowdell, claiming a walk-off, walked-in West Virginia 7-6 winner.

“It was a good two, three balls off,” Blasick said of the final pitch. “With two strikes, I never try to give up on pitches, so I try to see it the whole way in, but pretty much out of the hand, I thought it was away.”

As unceremonious as a walk-off walk is, it does its job to move WVU Baseball to 18-10 and 3-1 in conference. On the mound, Braithwaite got his second win of the season (2-0), while Baylor’s Marriott earned his first loss (2-1). On the base paths, WVU’s seven runs came off 10 hits, while Baylor converted nine hits into its six runs.

WVU and Baylor will play the middle game of the series tomorrow at 1 p.m., adjusted from 4 p.m. in an effort to avoid incoming snow.

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