GRANVILLE, W.Va. — As senior weekend kicked off for the West Virginia baseball team, catcher Ivan Gonzalez turned reflective. Not only for his classmates, but also for junior Alek Manoah, who projects to reap millions in first-round money when the MLB draft unfolds next month.
“You know,” Gonzalez mentioned to Manoah, “this will be your last time on this field too.”
To which the pitcher playfully retorted, “Whoa, so can we not host a regional? I guess you don’t think we can.”
Manoah soon went from poking fun at his catcher to poking holes in George Washington’s lineup, and No. 20 West Virginia coasted to a 10-1 win Thursday night at Monongalia County Ballpark.
Manoah set the school season record for strikeouts, Darius Hill broke Jedd Gyorko’s mark for career doubles, and the Mountaineers (33-18) helped their 50/50 case for bringing an NCAA regional to their home field.
Though Manoah (8-3) was the featured act, he left with an 8-1 lead after only 56 pitches — relieved with two outs in the fourth inning and the bases empty. It was coach Randy Mazey’s way of guaranteeing his ace a standing ovation from the 2,000-plus fans.
“Like every time I try to pull him out, I had a little fight on my hands,” Mazey joked. “But he may go down as one of the greatest pitchers in the history of this program, and I wanted him to be recognized.”
George Washington (30-23) didn’t recognize Manoah’s trademark power pitching because he leaned heavily on change-ups. That followed several days of bullpen work in which Mazey tried to coax some finesse into the kid with a 95-mph fastball and hard slider.
“He fell into thinking that the change-up is his third pitch, and that’s what I have to get him out of,” Mazey said. “It’s a great pitch and he needs to trust it. There was a little mechanical adjustment to it, and he was throwing some good ones tonight.”
In one sequence Manoah shook off Rodriguez to throw five consecutive change-ups.
“We did exactly what we wanted,” Manoah said. “I attacked them really well and threw it in the bottom of the zone.”
With four strikeouts, Manoah has 125 this season, surpassing the 123 John Radosevich recorded in 1964.
Hill went 3-for-4 with an RBI, and enjoyed his own record-breaking moment by leading off the eighth with a deep drive to left-center. Though it didn’t quite carry over the wall, it was still the 74th double of his four-year career.
“Gyorko? Who is he?” joked Hill, only too aware of the seventh-year big-leaguer whose name adorns the street sign beyond centerfield.
“He’s got a ton of records here, so it’s just special to be a part of breaking one of them.”
It was 1-1 in the third when WVU broke the game open with seven runs. GW starter Nate Woods (3-4) ultimately was charged with five of them, allowing six hits. Marques Inman’s single, Paul McIntosh’s double and a Gonzalez sac-fly all drove in runs.
After reliever Kevin Hodgson entered, more carnage continued on single by Kevin Brophy and Tevin Tucker and a double by TJ Lake.
Any thoughts Mazey had of pushing Manoah beyond his pitch-count evaporated in that half-inning. With the Big 12 tournament on deck next week in Oklahoma City, there was no need to stretch out WVU’s ace against a team with a 217 RPI.
So in the top of the fourth, when Manoah induced a grounder and whiffed Tyler Hix, his coach went to the mound.
If indeed that was the right-hander’s final appearance at The Mon, he sure enjoyed the applause that carried him into the dugout.
Asked afterward if he happened to recall his very first inning at this ballpark — a 14-pitch relief appearance back on March 25, 2017 — Manoah required only a nano-second.
“It was Jacksonville,” he replied. “And do you know the score? We won 8-1.”
Reporters nodded and Manoah winked: “I have a great memory.”
And a change-up too.