MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — With Billy Fleming hustling down a soggy baseline to beat out a potential double play, West Virginia completed a three-run, bottom-of-the-ninth comeback that stunned Kansas State 6-5.
Moments later Fleming found himself flat-backed on the rain-soaked infield dirt, wedged beneath a dogpile of teammates after the Mountaineers clinched the weekend series.
West Virginia’s seventh win in eight games—a hot streak that followed a seven-game losing slide—left coach Randy Mazey beaming.
“We’ve lost several games like that this year, but now that we’ve got things rolling and flipped in our direction, we deserved it,” he said. “We deserved to win that for everything we’ve been through and the guys believing in themselves.”
K-State’s bullpen, so sharp throughout the day after starter Jordan Floyd lasted just 18 pitches, imploded in the ninth while trying to protect a 5-3 lead amid steady rain.
“With our hitters, the game’s never over.” — WVU pitcher John Means
Closer Jake Matthys (2-3) walked Jackson Cramer on a borderline 3-2 pitch before Cameron O’Brien doubled off the center-field wall—West Virginia’s only hit of the inning. After Matthys wild-pitched Cramer home and walked Michael Constantini, K-State turned to freshman Ethan Landon, who walked Taylor Munden to load the bases with none out.
Bobby Boyd’s sac-fly to the right-field warning track tied it at 5-5 and moved pinch-runner Justin Fox to third base. Then came Fleming, who’s first-pitch chopper was fielded by first baseman Shane Conlon. Instead of throwing home for the force out, Conlon tried to turn the double play at second, but the return throw was too late to get Fleming.
“I was just trying to put the ball in play early,” Fleming said. “I got beat a little bit by that pitch, but it did the job.”
As invigorating as the comeback was for West Virginia (23-16, 6-7 Big 12), it looked equally deflating for Kansas State (23-21, 4-10). Despite out-hitting WVU 12-7, the Big 12 preseason favorites fell deeper into danger of finishing last in the standings, which would make them the only team eliminated from the conference tournament.
“We’re kind of on a high right now and they’re not,” Mazey said. “They’re in a place where we were a couple weeks ago, trying to figure things out.”
Kansas State coach Brad Hill said the late collapse hurt worse than Friday’s 10-1 beating.
“That is the hard part about today—we didn’t do the little things to win games,” he said. “We could have knocked down a couple two-out RBIs to put the thing out of reach, and walking the leadoff batter in the ninth set ourselves up for disaster.”
It took a while for West Virginia starter John Means to figure things out. He allowed nine early hits—and 11 of K-State’s first 17 batters to reach overall—including Blair DeBord’s first homer of the season, a two-run shot that made it 5-2 in the third.
“I was hanging everything,” he said. “The curveball was down the middle almost every time, and if it wasn’t down the middle it was in the dirt.”
Over the ensuing three innings, however, Means got off the ropes to retire 12 of the next 13 batters. He stuck around for 6 2/3 innings, surrendering five runs on 12 hits.
“He wasn’t coming out—he was staying out there for his 100 pitches regardless of the score,” said Mazey. “He didn’t throw great today but he settled in and gave us a chance to win.”
Means left with runners on the corners in the seventh, having thrown 121 pitches, but Ryan Tezak (3-0) squashed the threat on a grounder to third.
“We’ve lost several games like that this year, but now that we’ve got things rolling and flipped in our direction, we deserved it. We deserved to win that for everything we’ve been through and the guys believing in themselves.” — WVU coach Randy Mazey
WVU’s Brad Johnson chopped a two-out, two-run single through the middle in the bottom of the first. The hit came against reliever Jake Fromson, who replaced Floyd after three walks.
Fromson tossed a season-high 5 1/3 innings, allowing only one run on Jacob Rice’s sac-fly in the third. When Jared Moore followed with two shutout innings, K-State’s wobbly bullpen seemed to be in command.
And then came the ninth.
“With our hitters, the game’s never over,” Means said.
Game 3 of the series is slated for noon Sunday, with West Virginia’s Ross Vance (2-0, 3.00 ERA) scheduled to face Nate Griep (3-3, 3.12 ERA).