MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — The left-hander from central Texas hadn’t pitched in snow, and judging from his 7.50 ERA, Ross Vance hadn’t pitched effectively in any weather this season.
But once the West Virginia sophomore started mowing down Ohio State hitters on Tuesday night, the sub-freezing windchill wasn’t noticeable.
Making his first WVU start, Vance struck out 14 batters—a staff-high this season—during a 4-1 complete-game eight-hitter that ended the Mountaineers’ seven-game slide and left coach Randy Mazey stunned.
“Who knew he could do that?” Mazey said. “Fourteen strikeouts against Ohio State? That’s unbelievable.
“We’ve pitched him in relief this season and he hasn’t been effective. But that’s as good a pitching performance as we’ve had all year out of a guy you weren’t really expecting.”
Max Nogay’s two-run shot in the second inning put West Virginia (17-15) ahead to stay, ending the team’s eight-game homerless streak. Ryan McBroom and Jacob Rice each added two-out RBI singles in the third as the Mountaineers rouged up Buckeyes left-hander Zach Farmer (5-4).
Vance (1-0) endured his own early struggles—hitting Jacob Bosiokovic with the bases loaded in the second—before finding the correct arm slot for his changeup and baffling Ohio State’s lineup with a wide-sweeping fastball.
The movement on his pitches was so stark that two Ohio State batters struck out while swinging at pitches that hit them.
“Really, everything was working. All three pitches were going where I needed them to be,” Vance said. “The changeup, it just fell in today and they couldn’t seem to figure it out.”
“Being from Texas I’m not a fan of the cold … but when I was out there I didn’t even feel it. It felt like an 80-degree day.”
Mazey watched Vance give up a walk and two singles before the run-scoring plunk, but the pitcher managed the damage by fanning the next two batters.
“It got a little hairy in the second inning, and as a reliever, when he comes in with the game on the line and does that, you’ve got to take him out,” Mazey said. “But as a starter, you’ve got to let him settle in a little.”
Vance settled in by retiring 13 of the next 14 hitters. After allowing two seventh-inning singles, he stranded them by striking out Big Ten player of the week Nick Sergakis for the fourth time. The Buckeyes shortstop, who came in hitting .359, had fanned only eight times in 63 previous at-bats.
“Who knew he could do that? Fourteen strikeouts against Ohio State? That’s unbelievable.” West Virginia coach Randy Mazey on the complete game by Ross Vance
When a perfect eighth inning included two more strikeouts, Ross seemed fresh enough to keep going, even after 125 pitches.
“I came in and told (Mazey), ‘I’ve got the ninth, right?’ And he told me I had it. I couldn’t have been happier.”
Vance added another strikeout in the final inning. As snow flurries swirled and frigid winds made the night miserable for the few fans who hung around, Vance ended the game with a double-play on his 145th pitch.
“Being from Texas I’m not a fan of the cold … but when I was out there I didn’t even feel it. It felt like an 80-degree day,” he said.
“I’ve been struggling out of the bullpen. But I’ve started my whole life, so it felt like I was more in my element.”
Vance admitted staying up the previous night, anxious about his first chance to start a WVU game. After lowering his ERA to 3.60 and becoming only the third Mountaineers starter to go the distance this season, he said “hopefully I get another shot.”
Ohio State (21-16), which suffered its 12th loss against the RPI top 50, was led by two hits from Bosiokovic and Ryan Leffel.