OKLAHOMA CITY–After losing starting pitcher Chad Donato in the second inning, No.4 West Virginia University baseball team overcame the loss and defeated No.1 seed and regular-season champion Texas Tech, 9-4, to advance to the semifinals of the Phillips 66 Big 12 Conference Championship on Thursday at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark.
Donato left the game five batters in after making a routine pop fly out in the infield and injuring his forearm. This came a day after the Mountaineers lost starter Michael Grove in the first inning.
“I think it’s getting around the league to be careful when it comes around the lineup to play West Virginia because they’ll flip starting pitchers on you in the first inning,” WVU head coach Randy Mazey joked. “I swear we’re not doing that on purpose. We came down here thinking we have the two best starting pitchers in the Big 12, and they’ve thrown a combined two innings between them and we are 2-0. Absolute credit to our team. It’s just a deflating blow when you watch (Michael) Grove and Donato walk off the mound early in the game like that.
“I think BJ (Myers) spent a lot of time with Ross Vance. I heard him telling someone the other day how Vance handled that type of situation and who in the world would’ve thought that would happen again. Same thing Ross did, came in on short notice and said, hey give me the ball; let me run this thing. I’m going to put this team on my back and carry them through this top 10 team and he sure did that. I’m super proud of everybody in a Mountaineer uniform today.”
Myers pitched 4.2 innings, surrendering two runs on two hits. He struck out three.
Sophomore designated hitter Kyle Davis went 3-for-5 with 4 RBI. He had a double and a three-run triple in the seventh. Freshman third baseman Ivan Vera and freshman shortstop Jimmy Galusky each had two hits.
“It’s so much fun as a coach to watch young kids mature, not just on the field, but off the field as well and the turnaround they make,” Mazey said. “This may be the most fun I’ve had coaching a team in my coaching career. They’re a lot of fun to be around. They work hard. They are loose. They love each other. We have a great relationship between the players and the coaches. They all root for each other. As you know, some of the older guys who aren’t in the lineup now are cheering for the freshmen. Everybody knows they can be called on at any time to come in and help win a game. This is the epitome of what coaching is all about. I don’t want this season to end because I don’t want to stop coaching this group.”
With two outs in the fourth, Vera singled up the middle. Junior first baseman Jackson Cramer blasted his ninth home run of the season to left field, giving the Mountaineers a 2-0 lead.
“Right off the bat I thought I missed it, but I put it in the right area, the ball has been flying out of there,” Cramer said. “The wind helped it a lot. I wasn’t trying to do too much with it, just trying to put it in that gap, but I guess the wind definitely helped it. Glad I could get one of those rather than another hard hit ball.”
Third baseman Hunter Hargrove led off the fifth with a double down the right field line. Galusky’s throwing error put runners on first and second but Myers got Orlando Garcia to hit into a double play to end the inning.
Myers got in trouble again in the top of the sixth. With one out, the junior walked Anthony Lyons and Cory Raley. Tyler Neslony’s single drove Lyons home. Myers intentionally walked Eric Gutierrez and Hargrove’s sacrifice fly to center field tied the game 2-2.
WVU answered in the bottom half of the inning to regain a 3-2 lead. Davis led off the inning with a double down the right field line and scored on Vera’s base hit through the right side.
The Mountaineers brought on senior closer Blake Smith to get the final nine outs but the Red Raiders refused to go away. TTU tied the game on Lyons’ sacrifice fly, scoring catcher Tyler Floyd from third.
But WVU refused to back down and its offense erupted for a four-run seventh to take a 7-3 lead. Davis plated three-runs on a triple to right center after Galusky’s bunt single loaded the bases. Davis scored on Vera’s sacrifice fly to center.
The Red Raiders cut the deficit to 7-4 in the eighth but the Mountaineers put the game away with two runs in the bottom of the inning.
“We might not have the most talent up and down the roster like some of the other teams, but we’re as deep as any team in the league,” Davis said. “Every guy is so consistent and so hard working that sometimes that beats talent. I think it speaks volumes to BJ’s character and Ross’ (Vance) character to be able to be called on in a win like that and be able to go out and start like they knew they were starting three days in advance. That is what we are about. It is all coming together right now and I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else than right here right now.”
Smith threw three innings, allowing just two runs on three hits for his fifth win of the season.
WVU improved to 5-5 all-time in the Big 12 Championship.
The Mountaineers moved to 2-0 in the 2016 Big 12 Championship, tying the program’s most wins in a single championship. WVU has never played more than three games in a single championship but are guaranteed to play at least four.
The loss marked just the 14th time in 56 games that TTU scored four runs or less and they are 5-9 in those games.
WVU will play the winner of Friday’s Oklahoma-Texas Tech game on Saturday at 10 a.m. (ET).