MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Fighting to extend its season, West Virginia discovered some early offense and moved within one victory of clinching a spot in the Big 12 tournament.
Kyle Davis raised his average to .361 with a 3-for-5 night and Chad Donato pitched seven innings to lift the Mountaineers past Texas Tech 6-4 in Thursday’s opener of a three-game series.
West Virginia (26-24, 8-12) moved a full game ahead of Kansas and a half-game in front of Baylor and Kansas State in the race to avoid last place. The bottom finisher fails to qualify for next week’s conference tournament.
“It’s a huge weekend for us, but no pressure,” said Davis, who batted leadoff for the first time and delivered his ninth three-hit game of the season. “You can’t think too much about it being do-or-die—you’ve still got to play it like a normal game.
“Now if we get that second win (Friday) we’re in for sure.”
Donato (7-5) surrendered two homers—doubling his season total—but struck out eight batters in a satisfying win over a program that didn’t recruit him two years ago. Donato’s fanned the Red Raiders’ top power hitter Stephen Smith to close out a 132-pitch performance.
“Ending that on a strikeout, I was fired up,” said Donato. “I feel like my arm’s in shape. To be able to run some 89s and 91s up there in the last two innings felt pretty good.”
Conner Dotson blanked Texas Tech (29-21, 12-10) over the final two innings for his first save of the season.
West Virginia built a 6-1 lead against Ryan Moseley (4-6), whose shortest start of the season ended after only 2 2/3 innings.
All three third-inning runs were unearned after third baseman Orlando Garcia booted Ray Guerrini’s two-out grounder and allowed Taylor Munden to score. KC Huth and Davis followed with RBI singles before Dylan Dusek replaced Moseley, who allowed six hits and three walks while recording only one strikeout.
Texas Tech catcher Eric Gutierrez cranked a mammoth homer in the second inning that cleared the gated concourse beyond the left-field bullpen.
Smith added a solo shot in the sixth, his 10th of the season, leaving him one behind Munden for the Big 12 lead. That trimmed WVU’s lead to two runs, before Donato came back out for the seventh having thrown 118 pitches.
“When he gets to 100 pitches, he’s as good as he is when he starts the game,” Mountaineers coach Randy Mazey said. “I thought it was a big part of the game when Chad came out in the seventh and threw a 1-2-3 inning right through their best hitters.”
WVU manufactured a first-inning run when Davis singled, stole second, took third on a groundout and scored on Jackson Cramer’s sac fly to right field.
“I’ve never hit leadoff before, but whatever can help the team is what I’m going to do,” the freshman Davis said. “It was a lot of fun to get the tempo going.”
Ross Vance (6-4, 3.09 ERA) starts Game 2 for West Virginia against Texas Tech ace Cameron Smith (6-3, 2.64). First pitch is slated for 6 p.m.
A win guarantees the Mountaineers will be among the eight Big 12 teams advancing to Tulsa.
“They know what’s at stake. We don’t have to talk about it,” Mazey said. “They know (Friday) is a big game and we don’t want this thing to go to Saturday. I’d hate for it to go down to that last day, I’ve got enough stress in this job already.”