PRINCETON, W.Va. — Lacking the Big 12’s leading hitter and, truth be told, some of the bounce they showed against Texas last weekend, the West Virginia Mountaineers stayed hot nonetheless.
And they did so in front of a packed ballpark, staging an eighth-inning comeback to down Virginia Tech 4-3 on Tuesday night.
Jacob Rice’s RBI single tied it before reserve Justin Fox—his role diminished the past six weeks by an injured elbow—beat out a potential double play to bring home the go-ahead run.
That was the first lead of the game for the surging Mountaineers (27-17), who won for the 11th time in 13 games, and another setback for the swooning Hokies (19-28), who have dropped 11 of 12.
Coming off a series win against Texas, coach Randy Mazey lauded his players for grinding out a midweek win that continued to bolster West Virginia’s NCAA regional hopes.
“They aren’t naive to the Internet and social media, so they see Virginia Tech is under .500 and their RPI’s not high, but that’s where leadership comes in,” Mazey said. “You’ve got to have guys who say this game is as important as if they were No. 1 in the country.
“We’re learning how to win in the last two innings. Even if you’re a little bit low-energy when the game starts, you find a way to win at the end.”
An overflow crowd of 2,084 jammed Hunnicutt Field, home of the minor-league Princeton Rays. It was the eighth-largest home crowd to watch a West Virginia game.
After Virginia Tech took a 3-2 lead in the top of the eighth against reliever Ryan Tezak (4-0), the Mountaineers came up clutch in the bottom half against Hokies reliever Sean Keselica (3-4).
Keselica hit Cameron O’Brien, hitting in place of usual No. 2 batter Bobby Boyd, whose .376 average was missing after the center fielder was struck on the hand by a pitch Sunday.
After Ryan McBroom followed with a one-out double off the left-field wall, Rice leveled the game by delivering his second hit of the night—a sinking liner barely beyond the reach of Tech center fielder Saige Jenco.
“There’s no panic with our team,” Rice said. “We’re good hitters and we’re hot right now, so there was no panic at all.”
After Brad Johnson was intentionally walked to load the bases, that brought up the pinch-hitter Fox, who chopped a 2-2 pitch toward third base. The Hokies got the out at the second but were a step late to double up Fox at first.
“The minute I hit it I was like, ‘Oh crap.’ It’s probably the fastest I’ve run in a while,” said Fox, who has been sidelined with a strained elbow ligament since mid-March.
Sean Carley charged on in the ninth, allowing only an infield-chop single for his third save.
“We’re at a point where every game matters,” he said. “We didn’t want to play extra innings, because we’ve got a long bus ride home.”
The ride could feel even longer for Virginia Tech, which hurt itself with a couple base-running blunders early. In the first inning, after WVU initially failed to turn a double play, Hokies leadoff man Saige Jenco tried to score from second base and was cut down at the plate handily.
In the second, after Ricky Surum singled home the game’s first run and put runners on the corners with one out, he was picked off first by WVU starter Corey Walter.
Walter escaped a first-and-third jam in the fourth when Surum’s grounder led third baseman Michael Constantini throwing out Phil Sciretta at the plate.
“In their meeting I’m sure they’re talking about getting got guys thrown out at the plate and another guy picked off in a big situation. because they could’ve had a little bigger lead early in the game,” Mazey said. “That’s why we work on all that—the pickoffs and stuff—in the indoor facility before the season starts.”
Walter survived nine hits and two walks to concede only two runs over seven innings. He threw 110 pitches.
“These midweek games are big,” Walter said. “All of these games are real important for us.”
Mazey said it’s too early to determine Boyd’s availability for this weekend’s three-game series at Kansas.
“We’re going to do everything we can to get him ready for Friday, but he’ll probably be a game-time decision,” Mazey said.
“If you’re going to have a good team you’ve got to have some depth on the bench. When you miss a guy like Bobby it’s a big loss, but we’ve got guys who can step in.”