OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. — For all the video prep work and scouting reports hitters absorb before a game, West Virginia coach Randy Mazey admitted those best-laid plans can be wrecked by pitchers like TCU’s Preston Morrison.
The side-arming right-hander baffled more batters Thursday evening, tossing a complete-game seven-hitter to beat the Mountaineers 6-2 in a winners-bracket game at the Big 12 tournament.
The loss dropped sixth-seeded West Virginia (28-25) into a Friday elimination game against Baylor (25-30). The survivor must beat TCU (40-15) twice Saturday to reach the championship game.
If a rematch against TCU is forthcoming, at least WVU can be thankful it won’t have to face Morrison (9-3) again. The Big 12 pitcher of the year one-hit the Mountaineers on April 5 and, dating back to last season, had not allowed an earned run to WVU in 23 1/3 innings before Mazey’s team scored twice in the eighth on Thursday.
“You go into every game with a hitting approach that, in theory, you really, really like it. But (TCU’s Preston Morrison) just trashes your approach.” — West Virginia coach Randy Mazey
“You go into every game with a hitting approach that, in theory, you really, really like it,” Mazey said. “But he just trashes your approach.”
Ironically, Mazey was the pitching coach who recruited Morrison to TCU in 2011, offering a scholarship to the stringy kid who was overlooked by most power-conference programs. In three seasons since, Morrison owns a 1.61 career ERA, best among active Big 12 pitchers.
Said Mazey: “It’s a great lesson for all pitchers: You don’t have to throw 90 miles-an-hour to win games.”
The owner of three of the 10 shutouts in the Big 12 this season, Morrison threw 78 of his 108 pitches for strikes and allowed only one walk against six strikeouts.
“In his three years he leads the nation in opponent hitter meetings in the dugout,” joked TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle. “You can hear the coaches saying, “See the ball up” or “Hit it the other way,” but if it was so easy, it would happen more often. When Preston’s executing his pitches, it’s hard for hitters.”
West Virginia spot starter Corey Walter (1-6) didn’t possess any of those accolades, but the senior surprisingly out-pitched Morrison through seven innings, allowing just two hits and trailing 1-0.
Things unraveled when TCU struck for five two-out runs in the top of the eighth. All the damage occurred after Walter presumably got the third out on a full-count fastball to Kevin Cron. Walter bounded toward the dugout only to see the borderline pitch called outside by home plate umpire Doug Williams, forcing in a run to make it 2-0.
“I thought it was good, but it was (called) a ball,” Walter said. “It didn’t happen for me. Tough break. That’s pitching.”
More misfortune followed. Garret Crain’s high pop along the right-field foul line was misjudged by the oncoming Brad Johnson and the outgoing Ryan McBroom, falling between the outfielder and first baseman for a two-run double.
Jerrick Suiter widened the gap to 6-0 with a two-run single, only the fourth hit allowed by Walter, who departed with his best start of the season reduced to a deceiving line of six earned runs over 7 2/3 innings.
“Corey Walter was fun to watch today,” Mazey said. “I hope that’s not his last outing as a Mountaineer. He matched Morrison pitch for pitch today.”
In the bottom half, WVU used three hits to finally crack through against Morrison. Billy Fleming’s sac-fly and McBroom’s RBI single raised hopes of a repeat rally like the eight-run outburst WVU rode to stun Kansas the previous day, but Morrison stemmed the comeback by fanning Jacob Rice.
In the ninth, he needed only eight pitches to set down West Virginia 1-2-3.
“I didn’t feel like I had my best stuff or my best command, but no matter what you bring to the park , you’ve got to compete every day,” Morrison said.
NEXT UP FOR WVU
Baylor handed third-seeded Kansas its second one-run loss in as many days, 4-3, to advance in the elimination bracket. Back in late March, the Bears were swept by WVU 8-7 and 4-1 in Charleston in a series shortened to two games by rain.