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After fast start, Mountaineers’ bats go quiet as 22-game midweek winning streak ends

15 days ago, when West Virginia and Penn State met for the first time, the Nittany Lions scored four runs on 11 hits, while advancing to first on only one free pass from the Mountaineer pitching staff. On Wednesday, the Mountaineer pitching staff issued eight walks, while Penn State scored eight runs on 10 hits, beating the Mountaineers 8-4. 

We just didn’t play a good game. We get a three run lead and don’t throw strikes,” West Virginia head coach Randy Mazey said. “I think we just thought we were going to come out because we scored 15 runs on Sunday and just throw up 10 runs again.”

Since May 9, 2017, when West Virginia lost to Penn State, the Mountaineers have been perfect in midweek games at home. Coming into Wednesday, West Virginia had won 22 straight midweek games at Monongalia County Ballpark. That streak was broken, as the Mountaineers struggled to throw strikes, and the West Virginia offense left nine runners on base after the second inning. 

“I think it’s good for them to listen to the other team celebrate, hooting and hollering and laughing and it’s exactly what our group needs — to see what it feels like to lose,” Mazey said. 

Things started off just as they did in University Park just over two weeks ago for the Mountaineers. The top of the order struck early, with Wetherholt singling, before Scott brought him in after a double to right field. Penn State would have Scott caught up between second and third base, but Wetherholt would come home to score, with Scott advancing to third. Holbrook would then single to center field on the first pitch he saw, putting the Mountaineers ahead 2-0.

West Virginia would tack a third run on the board in the second inning, after consecutive singles, Dayne Leonard would score as Tevin Tucker grounded into a double play. 

Trailing 3-0, Penn State would tie things up in the third inning. Three of the first four batters West Virginia starting pitcher Aidan Major faced in the third inning singled, plating one for the Nittany Lions, and chasing Major out of his second career start. 

Johnny Piacentino would double down the right field line, plating one more off of reliever Zach Ottinger. Ottinger (1-1) would then try to catch Josh Spiegel with a pickoff move to third base, but Wetherholt could not catch the throw, allowing Spiegel to score, and tying the game at 3. 

“It looked like from my position that he was probably going to be out if we would have done it and that was a big run at the time,” Mazey said. 

A one-out double in the fourth, followed by an infield single two batters later, would put Penn State ahead 4-3. The Nittany Lions would add two more runs in the fifth, with Spiegel homering to left field, followed by Ben Kailher reaching on another error by Wetherholt. Kailher would steal second and then score on a triple from Billy Gerlott, putting Penn State ahead 6-3. 

West Virginia would threaten to score in the later innings, with the Mountaineers getting multiple runners on base, but to no avail.

In the eighth, West Virginia scored with Tucker beating out a comebacker to the pitcher, to trail 6-4. The Mountaineers would load the bases for Wetherholt, who would watch back-to-back curveballs go by, ending the threat. 

After giving up three early runs, the Penn State pitching staff settled in. Mason Mellott pitched 1.2 innings, giving up only one hit and walking one. The Penn State bullpen combined to pitch 6.1 innings, striking out six, and allowing six hits. 

Top of the order struggles

When West Virginia faced Penn State the first time around, West Virginia’s top four batters in their lineup went a combined 9-for-18. On Wednesday night, the top four combination of Austin Davis, JJ Wetherholt, Victor Scott and McGwire Holbrook went a combined 4-for-18. 

Bullpen Battles

West Virginia used 10 pitchers on Wednesday, with five of them giving up runs. Aidan Major got the start, while the Mountaineers turned to some familiar faces after that. West Virginia used Noah Short, Carlson Reed, Chase Smith and Trey Braithwaite, all who have been staples of the weekend pitching staff this season. 

The four gave up three runs, on three hits, while striking out six. 

Advancing towards more Big 12 play

The Mountaineers certainly did not help their postseason efforts, losing to Penn State on Wednesday. The Mountaineers will travel to Kansas, who currently ranks last in the conference standings. 

“We better get down and think Kansas is exactly what they are capable of — beating us every time we play,” Mazey said. 

Photo by Wesley Shoemaker

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