GRANVILLE, W.Va. — As Bryce Blaum’s fly ball went up and up, West Virginia’s players fell down to the ground in despair. Their dream season was leaving their own ballpark in a nightmare finish.
With two outs in the bottom of the ninth, Blaum drove a 3-2 slider that didn’t slide from an exhausted Sam Kessler for a game-ending grand slam that eliminated West Virginia with a bitter 11-10 defeat to Texas A&M.
“It’s hard to have an opening statement when you’re speechless,” West Virginia coach Randy Mazey said in his postgame press conference.
Blaum hit the ball in the toughest part of the stadium to drive it out, putting it atop the 20-foot-tall segment of wall in left field.
While the Aggies streamed out of their dugout for a mob scene at home plate, nearly every West Virginia player on the field simply sat down, overcome with disbelief and disappointment. Kessler had to be consoled by his coach.
“I’d like to leave that [conversation] between me and Sam,” Mazey said.
The biggest indignity of all for the Mountaineers? Getting walked off on their own field.
Despite being the top seed in the Morgantown Regional, West Virginia played as the visiting team against Texas A&M by virtue of losing a coin flip to determine home-field advantage in the game. Per NCAA procedure, the coin flip was used as the tiebreaker because each team had played home and away in the first two games of the tournament.
“It sucks when you get walked off on the field where you’ve been working hard for four years and see somebody else celebrating,” said senior right fielder Darius Hill. “But that’s the way regionals work.”
West Virginia squandered a 9-1 lead in the seventh inning. That lead was built on breakout performances by players at the bottom of the batting order. The 6-through-9 hitters in the lineup — Kevin Brophy, TJ Lake, Tevin Tucker and Austin Davis — combined for six RBIs and five runs.
The meltdown was of the slow-burning variety.
The Aggies cut the margin down the 9-3 with a one-out, two-run single off of Zach Ottinger in the seventh. Ottinger was in his fourth inning of work, taking over for starter Ryan Bergert after a 1-hour, 57-minute rain delay.
Ottinger walked the next batter before inducing a grounder from pinch-hitter Hunter Watson. WVU first baseman Marques Inman fielded it cleanly, but passed up an easy out at first to try starting a double play. The throw to shortstop Tevin Tucker was off the mark, loading the bases. It was West Virginia’s fourth error of the game.
That’s when Logan Foster struck with Texas A&M’s first grand slam, an opposite-field fly that lazily carried over the 325-foot sign in right field.
“[Ottinger] wasn’t pitching bad. He was the victim of all the defensive miscues,” Mazey said. “He just kept giving up ground ball after ground ball after ground ball. He should have had four or five more outs than he got.
“I thought he was doing fine. We still have to think about another game and tomorrow and him pitching again.”
Kessler, the Mountaineers closer who entered the game with eight saves, was pressed into duty and asked to record eight outs. He made it through the first five unscathed, and got the benefit of an eighth-inning insurance run that increased West Virginia’s lead to 10-7.
It turned out the Mountaineers needed more insurance.
Foster doubled to lead off the ninth before Kessler got Hunter Coleman to fly out to right. He walked pinch-hitter Aaron Walters on a 3-2 pitch before rebounding to strike out Ty Coleman on three pitches.
Kessler pitched carefully around Braden Shewmake, the only Aggie hitting above .300. Shewmake walked on five pitches to load the bases.
After working a full count, Blaum ended the Mountaineers’ season by driving Kessler’s 65th pitch out of the stadium. Kessler’s previous season high was 46 pitches during a game that West Virginia walked off TCU on May 5. He had surpassed 30 pitches only four times in 23 appearances.