Western Kentucky athletics

West Virginia’s Brandon White is caught stealing during a 7-5 win at Western Kentucky on Friday in the opener of a three-game series.

 

BOWLING GREEN, Ky. — Chase Illig powered West Virginia’s comeback with a pinch-hit three-run homer in the eighth inning and closer Sam Kessler got the final five outs in a 7-5 win at Western Kentucky on Friday.

Darius Hill raised his average from .125 to .222 with a 4-for-5 day capped by a solo shot in the ninth for the Mountaineers (3-5), who are scheduled to play their first 15 games on the road.

“We just needed to catch a break. We’ve been playing OK, but not winning games,” West Virginia coach Randy Mazey said. “A guy like Darius Hill, his batting average has been awful, but he’s been leading the team in hard-hit balls, and finally they’re starting to fall in for him.

“It’s a long season, as long as you can keep the faith and keep grinding, good things will happen to you.”

Trailing 4-2 in the eighth, the Mountaineers’ rally started with Braden Zarbnisky’s leadoff triple against Austin Tibbs (0-1), which was followed by Ivan Gonzalez’s double. After a single put two runners aboard, reliever Conner Boyd came on to face Illig, who sent a 3-1 pitch deep to right-center for his second home run of the season.

The comeback made a winner of right-hander Shane Ennis (2-0), who worked 2 1/3 innings in relief. His biggest pitches came on back-to-back strikeouts in the sixth that stranded a runner in scoring position.

Ennis gave up a run in the eighth, ending his season-opening scoreless streak end at 9 2/3 innings, but Kessler came on for his third save.

“Shane came in in a big situation and got two strikeouts to end the sixth inning,” Mazey said. “That’s why he’s in there, to do exactly what he did, so he’s throwing the ball really well right now.”

Senior starter BJ Myers pitched into the sixth inning for WVU and allowed four runs in seven hits. He struck out two and walked one, earning a no-decision for the third consecutive start.

Western Kentucky (5-5) left-hander Ryan Thurston lowered his ERA from 2.38 to 2.04 by giving up one earned run over 6 1/3 innings. He allowed six hits and four walks.

Kevin Brophy led off the second inning with a single, moved up on a passed ball and was bunted to third before scoring on a groundout in WVU’s top of the second.

Andrew Zitel led off the fifth with a double — extending his hitting streak to a career-best five games — and scored on Brandon White’s single to tie it at 2-2.

After allowing only 13 extra-base hits through the first nine games, the Hilltoppers gave up seven to WVU.

The three-game set continues Saturday.

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