MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — West Virginia’s bullpen looked steady for a change, so it was TCU’s turn to cough up a last-inning lead.
The Mountaineers scored the tying and winning runs in the bottom of the ninth without putting the ball in play, stringing together a hit batter and four walks to stun the third-ranked Frogs 5-4 in Sunday’s rubber game of the series.
Jackson Cramer and Darius Hill drew bases-loaded walks as West Virginia (21-13, 8-4) set a program benchmark by claiming a fourth straight Big 12 series.
“If it had to be a walk, walk walk-off, we’ll take it,” said coach Randy Mazey, whose team moved within a game of TCU (28-7, 9-3) in the league standings.
With a top-10 RPI and five weeks left in the regular season, West Virginia looks primed to reach an NCAA regional for the first time in 21 years. Their second walk-off win of the weekend also erased the sting of losing 11 previous games to the Frogs.
“We’re out to prove something,” Mazey said. “They keep telling us we’re not good enough to play in the postseason, so that’s what we’ve been using for motivation.”
TCU closer Durbin Feltman (2-1) — dominant during Saturday’s five-out, 22-pitch save — threw the same number in Game 3 but couldn’t find the plate. His one-out fastball ricocheted off the hand of pinch-hitter Ivan Gonzalez, preceding walks to Kyle Gray, pinch-hitter Kevin Brophy and Cramer.
At that point West Virginia knew it couldn’t lose the game because the teams made a getaway-day pact not to start an inning after 3:30 p.m. TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle tried to salvage a tie by replacing Feltman with Cal Coughlin, who walked Hill on five pitches to end it.
TCU had won 68 consecutive games when leading after eight innings, dating back to 2015. It was the first career loss in 40 appearances for Feltman, who had gone 18-for-18 in save opportunities.
“We’ve seen him enough of him to know he’s one of the best in the league at closing games,” Gray said. ”Maybe having to pitch two innings yesterday affected him.”
In a turnaround equally as stark, West Virginia’s bullpen tossed 5 2/3 scoreless innings — aided by Brandon White’s run-saving grab in center field — to keep the game tight after Alex Manoah gave up four earned runs on seven hits.
Braden Zarbnisky and Sam Kessler skirted trouble before Jackson Sigman (1-2) delivered a perfect ninth. The stellar relief work followed WVU blowing a three-run lead in Friday’s ninth inning and a four-run cushion in Saturday’s eighth.
“We wanted to move on from the disaster of yesterday,” said Sigman, who had been winless in 52 previous career appearances . “The thing we haven’t done well here in my previous years was getting over tough losses, but I think we took a big step today.”
A 6-foot-6 freshman making his first Big 12 start, West Virginia’s Alex Manoah gave up four earned runs on seven hits and one walk in 3 1/3 innings. He fanned three.
Cramer singled home Gray in the first, added an RBI double in the third and came around to score himself on Kyle Davis’ double to make it 3-1.
The Mountaineers missed other chances to ding TCU right-hander Brian Howard early. Gray bounced into a bases-loaded double play to end the second inning, and with runners on the corners in the fourth he was doubled off first base on Zarbnisky’s line-drive out.
Howard needed 121 pitches to last only 5 2/3 innings, but used seven strikeouts to minimize the threat created by eight hits and four walks.
Manoah couldn’t survive TCU’s three-run fourth, surrendering Nolan Brown’s RBI double and Wanhanen’s go-ahead single around a run-scoring wild pitch.
TCU’s lead remained 4-3 until the ninth.
“That was the difference: We threw up five zeroes out of the bullpen,” Mazey said. “Everybody is naturally thinking, ‘Where were those guys yesterday when you needed them?’ It was a different day, different atmosphere.
“We had a pitcher’s meeting before the game today and talked about getting right back out there and getting a second chance to prove yourself as a bullpen. We kept hanging around and gave ourselves a chance.”