GRANVILLE, W.Va. – Lightning did not strike twice for Marques Inman and No. 20 West Virginia on Easter Sunday.
A day after delivering a dramatic game-winning home run against Kansas in the bottom of the ninth, Inman stepped into the batter’s box with a chance to do it again Sunday afternoon. But this time it was the Jayhawks with the upper hand as closer Jonah Ulane snuck a fastball past Inman, allowing Kansas (20-18, 5-10 Big 12) to avoid a sweep with a 6-5 win.
The Mountaineers (24-14, 8-7) had won three straight home games in their final at-bat, so WVU coach Randy Mazey was brimming with confidence when Inman strolled up to the plate.
“Once is a fluke. But we’ve done it three times in a row at home,” Mazey said. “So you start to think it’s a real thing that’s happening here.”
All three games in the series were decided by one run. West Virginia swept Saturday’s doubleheader with a pair of walk-off wins.
“It gives everything a little more of an intense feeling,” Inman said. “Every team is a tough team to beat in the Big 12. It honestly doesn’t matter who it is.”
It looked like there would be no such drama for the majority of the series finale. Kansas scored three runs in the first inning, and coasted into the bottom of the eighth with a 6-1 lead. That’s when West Virginia’s offense finally jumped to life.
Inman resuscitated the Mountaineers with an infield single to score Ivan Gonzalez before moving to third on Paul McIntosh’s RBI double to score Darius Hill. Kevin Brophy came off the bench to rap a sharp single up the middle that easily scored Inman and McIntosh, shaving the deficit to one run.
No. 9 hitter TJ Lake led off the Mountaineer ninth with a single, but Mazey was in no mood to move him into scoring position via steal or sacrifice with the heart of his order looming.
“I didn’t want to play for a tie there,” Mazey said. “We were playing with such confidence at the end of the game. I wanted to play for the win.”
Hill’s two-out single kept the game alive for Inman, who battled through a five-pitch at-bat before Ulane retired him to record his eighth save.
A second-straight shaky start from Kade Strowd helped put the Mountaineers behind the 8-ball. Last week he only went four-plus innings against Texas Tech, plagued by seven walks. His control was far better against Kansas as he issued only one free pass, but Kansas took advantage of the extra pitches in the strike zone for eight hits in his 4 1/3 innings.
Considering that opponents were hitting .185 off of Stroud this season, Mazey thinks it’s a blip and was more encouraged that his starter was throwing strikes.
“I was super-encouraged, because the last couple times out it’s been a lot of walks,” Mazey said. “We’ll have to watch the video and try to figure out why they were hitting everything. But in a weird way, I was encouraged by what he did today.”
The loss is hardly a disaster for West Virginia, which has won four-straight Big 12 series. Kansas entered the weekend at the bottom of the league, but was coming off a series win against first-place Oklahoma State.
“If you’re in the Big 12, the last-place team beats the first-place team all the time,” Mazey said. “There’s nothing to be ashamed about.”
The Mountaineers did cost themselves a chance to gain a half-game on idle Oklahoma State in the race to finish atop the league. West Virginia is now two games behind the first-place Cowboys and a game back of second-place Baylor.