OKLAHOMA CITY–Senior Ross Vance came on in relief in the first inning and carried fourth-seeded West Virginia University to a 6-0 victory over fifth-seeded Oklahoma during the first round of the 2016 Phillips 66 Big 12 Baseball Championship on Wednesday morning.
Two batters into the game, freshman starter Michael Grove left the game with a knee injury. The right-hander was fielding a sacrifice bunt when his knee buckled in foul territory. Grove got up and tested the knee out but was lifted for Vance.
“Michael Grove is a hockey player,” WVU head coach Randy Mazey said. “So he has been checked into the boards a time or two. He knows how to play with things, little bumps and bruises, that type of thing. He is a tough kid and he wanted to stay out there, who wouldn’t? Opportunity to pitch against Oklahoma in the conference tournament. I would hope that he wants to stay out there, but in that instance, common sense has to prevail. That kids to important to me to hurt him.”
Vance (7-3) came on and dominated the Sooners (28-26). The southpaw pitched 8.2 innings of scoreless baseball. He gave up one hit and struck out seven.
“I feel like I was able to keep my pitches down and the ones I left up they hit it right at somebody,” Vance said. “So, I mean, a little bit of luck today and a little bit of good pitching, a lot of good defense and a lot of good offense. It was a good team win.”
Senior center fielder KC Huth went 2-for-3 and freshman second baseman Cole Austin went 2-for-4 with one RBI for the Mountaineers (34-21).
OU starter Jake Irvin picked up just his second loss of the season (6-2). He went 3.2 innings allowing eight hits, four walks and five runs while striking out two.
WVU got on the scoreboard first in the third. Junior first baseman Jackson Cramer walked and went to second on junior catcher Ray Guerrini’s base hit through the left side. With two outs, Austin singled up the middle, scoring Cramer and giving the Mountaineers a 1-0 lead.
WVU had a chance to add on to its lead but Guerrini was thrown out at home on a delayed steal attempt.
In the top of the fourth inning, the Mountaineers’ defense turned it up and helped keep the Sooners from scoring. OU’s Cody Thomas doubled and on a phenomenal relay from freshman left fielder Kyle Gray to freshman shortstop Jimmy Galusky to Guerrini, WVU threw shortstop Sheldon Neuse out at home plate.
The Mountaineers’ offense exploded in the fourth when sophomore designated hitter Kyle Davis blasted a three-run homer to straight away center field. WVU didn’t stop there. Irvin then walked Darius Hill and the freshman right fielder went to third on freshman third baseman Ivan Vera’s base hit. Cramer plated Hill on a groundout to Neuse, making it a 5-0 advantage.
Huth added to the lead in the fifth. The senior led off the inning with a triple off the center field wall and scored on Neuse’s throwing error.
Davis’ fourth inning bomb was the first home run for WVU in Big 12 Championship play since 2014, and just the fifth all-time championship blast for the Mountaineers.
The shutout was WVU’s first-ever in Big 12 Championship play.
“We are just focused one game at a time but I know individually we have all the confidence in the world,” Huth said. “To piggy back off what Kyle (Davis) said, we are just having fun right now. Everybody is going out there and playing a big role in the game. Even though we took one from (Texas) Tech, I feel we played a really solid three games against them and it’s just carried over. Everybody is having fun and the confidence level is really high right now.”
The Mountaineers improved to 4-5 all-time in the Big 12 Championship.
WVU will take on the winner of the Texas Tech-Kansas State game on Thursday at 5 p.m. (ET).