As Jackson Wolf walked out to the mound in the bottom of the ninth inning, he knew that this was his moment. After shutting down the No. 1-seeded Texas Longhorn offense for most of the night, and although his pitch count was at 122 pitches, he was not going to let anyone take the ball from him.
“I told coach Mazey after the eighth inning ended, that I don’t care what the pitch count numbers look like, I feel great, my body feels great,” Wolf said. “I was set on finishing this ballgame tonight.”
Finishing the ballgame is just what Wolf did. After going into the ninth inning with a 5-1 lead, Wolf (6-5) struck out the first batter, before walking the second hitter he faced in the inning. Then, with his pitch over 130, facing the best team in the Big 12 this past season, and the second best team in the country, Wolf was able to get a double play to finish his complete game masterpiece, while giving West Virginia a 5-1 win in the second round of the Big 12 Tournament.
This game was important to West Virginia for many reasons. Not only does this win elevate the Mountaineers’ chances to win the Big 12 Tournament as they are still on the winner’s side of the bracket, but it was also a stamp on Wolf’s remarkable year in what could be his last start in a West Virginia uniform.
Hudson Byorick got the offense going for the Mountaineers. Byorick hammered a fastball off of Big 12 Pitcher of the Year Ty Madden to give West Virginia a 1-0 lead. The offense kept it going in the fifth inning, making the most of Texas mistakes while also continuing to hit the ball well off of Madden (6-4).
Alec Burns singled, followed by a Kevin Brophy double to put two runners in scoring position with only one out. Tyler Doanes followed suit, flying out to right field to plate Burns. During the next at-bat, Brophy scored on a wild pitch, to put West Virginia ahead 3-0.
After giving up a solo home run in the sixth inning, Wolf ran into his most amount of trouble in the seventh. Having to face the middle of the Texas lineup for the third time on the evening, and the second time in five days, Wolf had his work cut out for him.
Wolf allowed two of the first three runners to reach base in the seventh inning. Knowing the big spot, he was in, Mazey called for a pickoff play. Wolf ran it to perfection – spinning towards second base and firing a bullet to catch Cam Williams off of the base to get the second out of the inning.
“The pickoff in the seventh inning was a huge pickoff. He didn’t get rattled when he got the pickoff sign. He hasn’t tried that pickoff move probably his last four or five outings and executed it perfectly,” Mazey said. “That was a huge out because he was starting to show signs of getting in trouble that inning.”
With two outs, Wolf gave up a single and walk to load the bases but got out of trouble getting Eric Kennedy to hit a soft fly ball in the infield to end the threat.
Despite throwing a lot of high-stress pitches in the seventh, Wolf arguably had his best inning in the eighth inning facing the middle of the Texas lineup. Wolf proceeded to strike out the side in the eighth inning and give West Virginia a chance to win the game.
“Once I got deeper in the game, I felt like I understood my body more and more,” Wolf said. “I felt better in the eighth and ninth innings than I did [in innings] one through seven.”
In the top of the ninth, West Virginia added two more runs. Kevin Brophy doubled to score Ben Abernathy, and Brophy then scored on a wild pitch to extend the Mountaineer lead to 5-1.
“For myself this could very well have been my last time pitching as a Mountaineer,” Wolf said. “My mindset going into the game was I’m going to leave everything I got out on the field and I’m going to where my heart on my sleeve and that’s exactly what I did.”
Mazey added, “that’s the best I have ever seen [Wolf] pitch.”
Wolf finished his evening throwing 138 pitches, giving up one run on five hits, while walking five, and striking out seven while earning his sixth win on the season.
West Virginia might be playing their best baseball at the most important time, and if they can beat the second best team in the country, they can certainly make a run at a Big 12 Tournament title.
Up next, West Virginia will play the winner of No. 4- seed Oklahoma State and No. 5- seed Oklahoma at 8:30 on Thursday evening.
Photo by Scott Weaver/Big 12 Conference