OKLAHOMA CITY–The fourth-seeded West Virginia University baseball team lost an 11-10 heartbreaker in extra frames against the third-seeded TCU Horned Frogs in the Phillips 66 Big 12 Championship at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark on Sunday afternoon.
The Mountaineers (36-22) overcame an 8-0 deficit in the first two and a half innings to take a 10-9 lead in the bottom of the fifth. That lead stood until the ninth inning when TCU (42-15) tied the game.
“This is a team that hasn’t given up,” WVU head coach Randy Mazey said. “As a coach you say that all the time. You encourage them to never give up. To have a team that actually never gives up, that’s a fun team to coach. I’d hate to stop coaching these guys. I’d hate for the season to end just on the sole reason I love being around them. It’s a great character group, a great chemistry group. They’re a bunch of great baseball players. They’re fun to be around. I would hate for it to stop now.”
Sophomore designated hitter Kyle Davis went 3-for-6 with three RBI. With a two-run double in the fifth the sophomore broke the Big 12 Championship RBI record. Nebraska’s Dan Johnson had the previous best of 13, set in 2001.
Freshman shortstop Jimmy Galusky went 3-for-4 with two RBI and three runs scored. Freshman right fielder Darius Hill went 3-for-5 with four RBI.
Senior Ross Vance pitched 6.1 innings of relief baseball. The southpaw gave up four runs (three earned) on 10 hits. He struck out 12 batters, a team record in a Big 12 Championship contest.
“It’s unbelievable what we’ve asked that kid to do,” Mazey said of Vance. “Not many pitchers can do what he did this week, to step in there on short notice. For us to come in there and say, ‘Hey Ross, you’re the guy to come in the game in case someone gets hurt so be prepared.’ He came in a struck out 12 Horned Frogs. Which is not easy to do. They’re hitting more than 300 as a team. They’re one of the best offenses in all of college baseball. For him to come in a do that, after what he did against OU three days before, says volumes about his character and his tenacity.”
Michael Grove got the start for the Mountaineers but the freshman got off to a rocky start. The Horned Frogs jumped out to a 4-0 lead. Mazey went to Vance and senior center fielder Dane Steinhagen singled up the middle to give TCU a 5-0 advantage before Vance got junior shortstop Ryan Merrill to hit into a double play.
Sophomore first baseman Michael Landestoy led off the second with a base hit to left field. He stole second and scored on Austen Wade’s RBI single through the right side. Cam Warner doubled to left center, scoring Wade from first.
Landestoy gave TCU an 8-0 lead in the third with a solo shot to left field.
WVU battled like it did all season and refused to go away quietly. Galusky led off the bottom of the third with a bunt single and scored on Davis’ double. Hill cut the deficit to 8-2 with a RBI single through the left side. Junior first baseman Jackson Cramer’s bloop single to right field plated Hill.
The Mountaineers made it an 8-6 game in fourth. Senior center fielder KC Huth got the inning started with a one-out single down the left field line. Freshman left fielder Kyle Gray reached on a fielder’s choice and Galusky and Davis singled to load the bases. Hill’s base clearing triple pulled WVU within three.
The Horned Frogs got one back in the top of the fifth to go ahead 9-6.
But the Mountaineers refused to go away and completed the rally in the bottom of the fifth. Two walks and a single loaded the bases for the WV native, Galusky, who doubled through the left side and pulled WVU within one run. Davis gave the Mountaineers a 10-9 lead with a two-run double down the left field line.
TCU tied it in the ninth. Back-to-back singles from Josh Watson and Steinhagen gave the Horned Frogs runners at the corners with no outs. Watson scored on Merrill’s sacrifice fly to left field.
In extra innings, senior reliever Blake Smith gave up a solo home run to first baseman Luken Baker to give TCU an 11-10 lead. WVU had a chance in the bottom half of the inning but the Mountaineers went down in order.
Sophomore right-hander BJ Myers came on in the seventh with the bases loaded to strike out TCU’s Warner. Myers tossed 1.1 innings with just a hit allowed.
Smith (5-2) suffered the loss after giving up two runs on three hits in two innings pitched.
“It’s devastating,” Davis said. “We’ve really beaten all odds. No one expected to be where we are right now. We have the most freshmen of any team in the conference. Our two horses go down and you can’t draw that up. Given the obstacles that we’ve faced, I’d say we won in our eyes. It’s no one’s fault. It was an incredible run and I couldn’t be more proud of my teammates and coaches and hopefully we’re not done.”
A program-best four Mountaineers earned Big 12 All-Tournament Team Honors: Huth, Davis, sophomore starting pitcher Conner Dotson and Vance. WVU had won only one Big 12 All-Tournament Team accolade in the previous three seasons combined.
The Horned Frogs will wait to see if they earned a home regional of the 2016 NCAA Division I Baseball Championship. WVU must wait and see if the selection committee selects them.
Since the Mountaineers went on an impressive 17-3 stretch, beginning on April 24, the team’s rating percentage index (RPI) soared 59 spots to No. 60. Since April 24, WVU’s RPI is No. 7 in the country.