OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. — West Virginia’s ace endured his worst start of the season. Its closer couldn’t throw a fastball past anybody. Then there was the matter of facing a six-run deficit with nine outs to go.
Yet the Mountaineers won anyway.
Stoked by an eight-run seventh-inning outburst, West Virginia resuscitated its NCAA hopes with a 10-9 victory over Kansas in the opening game of the Big 12 tournament.
“Wow,” beamed coach Randy Mazey outside the West Virginia locker room. “You’re going to have to beat us the whole game to beat us. No lead is safe against the Mountaineers, because when we bring the offense, we really bring the offense.”
Among the players who brought the offense during the fateful seventh inning was freshman designated hitter Jackson Cramer. Hitting in the No. 8 hole, he jumpstarted the rally with a single—at which point Kansas led 8-2—and then he capped it with his first collegiate homer, a prodigious three-run shot down the right-field line that put WVU ahead 10-8.
“I guess it was pretty good timing for a first home run,” said Cramer.
Relievers Pascal Paul and Sean Carley somehow combined to make the lead stand up, overcoming five walks and a hit batter. The Jayhawks pulled within a run but stranded seven runners over the final three at-bats.
The comeback snapped a seven-game losing skid for West Virginia (28-24), which needs to solidify its NCAA resume, and erased a rough outing for left-hander Harrison Musgrave.
The second-team All-Big 12 pitcher allowed nine hits and a season-high six runs—his most since February 2011—by failing to last six innings for only the second time this season.
“Today was a struggle all the way around, really,” Musgrave said. “I just had my fastball and they were sitting on it.
“Today I’d give myself an F, but if needed sometime down the road in this tournament, maybe I’ll throw again and do a little bit better.”
Kansas (34-23) hung four runs on Musgrave in the fifth and put up another four-spot in sixth, some of that damage coming against Ryan Tezak (5-1), who got the win despite allowing two runs in 1/3 of an inning.
At that point the Jayhawks seemed in control and ready to build on their three-game sweep of WVU from two weekends ago. But those back-to-back big innings came with a side-effect: icing Kansas starter Jordan Piche.
Using a sharp slider and a wicked changeup, Piche fanned 11 WVU hitters through six innings and Mazey fretted he might strike out 20. But upon emerging in the seventh, Piche had lost his zip.
“When he came back out he was a different guy,” Mazey said. “It was almost like a rain delay.”
And after Piche issued consecutive walks, West Virginia began raining hits against the Kansas bullpen—including five straight with two outs.
An RBI double by Ryan McBroom, a two-run double by Jacob Rice and a run-scoring single by Brad Johnson closed the gap to 8-7.
After Cam O’Brien’s single chased Drew Morovick (9-4), up came Cramer for the second time in the inning. He greeted Jayhawks closer Stephen Villines with a first-pitch blast that sent the WVU dugout into full eruption.
And in a nearby hotel, Oklahoma center fielder Craig Aikin was going nuts too. The high school teammate of Cramer’s saw the homer on TV and ran two blocks to ballpark to offer congratulations.
But in a game that featured 26 hits and 41 baserunners, Kansas made more noise by scoring a run in the eighth when Carley plunked Jacob Boylan with the bases loaded.
The Mountaineers closer, who blew a save in Lawrence, encountered more drama in the ninth. He issued two walks before Conner McKay’s fly out to right-center finally ended it.
“Every pitch was a grind,” said Carley, who needed 53 pitches to get through two innings and likely won’t be available to pitch again until at least Friday. “But I’ll do whatever my team needs me to do.”
West Virginia meets the TCU on Thursday at 5 p.m. Eastern in a winners-bracket game, while Kansas falls into an elimination game against Baylor.