As Mikey Kluska stepped to the plate in the bottom of the ninth, it just felt like he was going to come through with yet another big moment for the West Virginia University baseball team. After being one of the best hitters for this Mountaineer team, they hoped Kluska would come up with yet another big hit.
The Mountaineers (14-15, 5-6 Big 12) would not have been in this situation however if they did not battle all game. After getting an early lead, it looked like West Virginia was going to fold late in a game yet again, with the bullpen blowing another lead. The Mountaineers were able to find success late in the game once again. In the eighth inning, West Virginia was down 5-4 entering the inning, but West Virginia was able to put three good at bats together to tie the game. Victor Scott worked a seven pitch walk, followed by a Hudson Byorick infield single. Then senior Paul McIntosh singled to left field to score the tying run for the Mountaineers, tying the game at 5-5.
In the ninth, West Virginia again put quality at bats together. Kevin Brophy ripped a single to start the inning, and then Austin Davis squared to bunt, but then had a check swing single, to put runners on first and second with no outs. Tyler Doanes then had a nine pitch at bat which resulted in a walk, which then allowed Kluska to come to the plate.
After falling behind in the count 1-2, Kluska seemed to be overpowered by Texas Tech pitcher Ryan Sublette. Sublette (4-1) had only allowed one run in his 2.2 innings pitched thus far and seemed to have control of the at bat. Kluska did not back down, hitting a ground ball to the Texas Tech first baseman, who then fired home, but Texas Tech catcher Braxton Fulford’s foot was off of the plate, allowing Ben Abernathy to score, giving the Mountaineers a 6-5 win.
Kluska said keeping things simple was his goal at the plate and that he was confident in his approach.
“[My approach] was just to simplify everything. I had confidence going up there. I haven’t been hitting my best these past few games, so I’ve been honestly not trying to think about anything and just go up there and just be reactive and just do what I do and just try and hit,” Klusky said. Just put the ball in play, see something well and just do whatever I could to get that win for us.”
Kluska coming into this game was one of West Virginia’s best hitters, and even while in a slump, head coach Randy Mazey was confident with Kluska at the plate.
“Some guys over time get an identity as to what kind of player they are. He has an identity but it hasn’t taken much time,” Mazey said. “He is a true freshman that has come in here and has never been rattled by a situation and just continues to do what he continues to do which is play really good shortstop and be really competitive at the plate.”
It was a good start for the Mountaineers, with the offense getting going during the first inning. Doanes led off the inning with a single into center field and was able to advance to second base after Victor Scott bunted the ball and Fulford’s throw pulled their first baseman off of first base, allowing Scott to reach and for Doanes to advance to second. Hudson Byorick then hit a sharp ground ball up the middle, but Texas Tech second baseman Jace Jung overthrew first base allowing Doanes to score and putting the Mountaineers up 1-0.
In the second inning, the West Virginia offense stayed on the attack. After back to back singles by Vince Ippoliti and Matt McCormick, Texas Tech starting pitcher Micah Dallas threw a wild pitch allowing Ippoliti to score. Austin Davis then singled to score McCormick and extending the West Virginia lead to 3-0.
West Virginia starting pitcher Adam Tulloch first ran into trouble in the fourth inning. Texas Tech started the inning with back to back hits, putting runners on second and third with no outs. Tulloch then surrendered a single, to put Texas Tech on the board, but was able to get out of the inning as he induced a double play to hold West Virginia’s lead at 3-1.
In the fifth inning, West Virginia and Texas Tech traded blows. After Texas Tech was able to get Tulloch out of the game after a walk and hit by pitch, Zach Ottinger came into the game to pitch for the Mountaineers. Ottinger allowed a run to score, but then was able to only hold Texas Tech to one run.
Tulloch finished the day giving up two runs, on five hits, and striking out two, in four innings pitched.
In the bottom of the inning, the Mountaineers led off with a Brophy double who came around to score on a Kluska single, to put the Mountaineers back in front by two.
In the sixth inning, West Virginia pitching got into trouble. After not being able to find the strike zone, Ottinger was pulled after walking the first batter and then hitting the next two to load the bases. Mazey then went to Noah Short to try and limit the damage, but he too was unable to find the strike zone. Short hit the first batter he faced and then gave up a sacrifice fly, before walking in another run to give Texas Tech a 5-4 lead.
The Mountaineers seemed to struggle at times to find the strike zone, allowing seven walks, and hitting six batters in total on the day. Mazey was not thrilled about his pitchers’ performance, but was happy his team came out with the win.
“Usually if you give a team like that 13 free bases there is little to no chance you win that game. Fortunately we battled and grinded pretty good offensively and ended up scoring one more than that did,” Mazey said.
Jacob Watters (2-0) got the win for the Mountaineers, after coming into the game in the ninth inning and striking out the side.
The Mountaineers will look to win its series against Texas Tech. West Virginia plays the third game of their series, tomorrow, April 18, with first pitch set for 1:00 p.m.
Photo by Shanna Rose, BGS