MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Kyle Gray had hit two home runs in a college game before. Just never with his grandfather in the bleachers.
West Virginia’s diminutive second baseman had a solo shot and a two-run homer during Saturday’s 8-6 win over No. 19 Texas, touching the plate each time while gesturing toward the seven family members watching from the grandstand.
“My grandad, he probably hasn’t flown on a plane in 20 years, but the doctors cleared him to travel,” said Gray, who grew up less than an hour from Austin. “After the first home run I pointed at him. And after the second one, I have no words for it.”
Even West Virginia coach Randy Mazey choked up over the “special moment.”
The crowd of 2,618 had plenty of emotion left in the eighth inning after WVU coughed up a lead for the second straight day. With shades of Friday’s 11-6 loss hanging heavy, and the series hanging in the balance, the Mountaineers (21-19, 5-9) rallied from a 6-5 hole with three runs in the bottom of the eighth — two courtesy of wild pitches.
Then the ninth provided more yo-yo drama.
Texas (30-16, 12-5) loaded the bases on two bloop singles and an infield hit, before Alek Manoah mowed down the next two batters and induced Masen Hibbeler to pop out to shallow center, relieving a stadium full of here-we-go-again angst.
“I think all 2,500 people might have been thinking that,” Mazey admitted, until the 6-foot-6 sophomore Manoah (3-5) earned his second relief win in four days.
“Alek had every reason to fold the tents up after giving up three cheap hits, but he didn’t. He decided he was going to get better, and the best way not to let them get hits is to throw it right through ‘em.”
WVU players mobbed Manoah on the mound after the final out, a scene resembling an NCAA regional win. And for a bubble team like the Mountaineers, it might have been just as crucial.
“Just how we drew it up, right? Load ‘em up, get this place a little loud and then finish it off,” Manoah joked. “It’s pretty big. All these games down the stretch, they mean a lot.”
After UT scored three times in the top of the eighth to pull ahead, Longhorns saves leader Andy McGuire (0-2) failed to hold it in the bottom half. He loaded the bases with a full-count walk to Braden Zarbniski before bouncing a wild pitch to the screen that tied it. After Brandon White’s cue-ball infield single put WVU up 7-6, McGuire struck out Darius Hill but was charged with a run-scoring wild pitch when the ball caromed off Hill’s back leg on the swing.
Texas argued for but plate umpire Greg Harmon did not notice the pitch hitting Hill, which would have resulted in a dead ball.
Mountaineers starter Kade Strowd left with a 5-3 lead in the sixth, having yielded seven hits while throwing 103 pitches.
Tristen Hudson got WVU through the sixth and seventh innings but was lifted after opening the eighth by hitting one batter and walking the next. The unraveling continued when Shane Ennis threw off-target on a sac bunt and issued a bases-loaded walk.
Manoah allowed two inherited runners to score on a hit by Kody Clemens, whose Hall-of-Fame dad Roger watched from the press box.
The teams each had 13 hits, though Texas stranded 14 runners to West Virginia’s eight.
Sunday’s series finale is schedule for 1 p.m.
“That loss (Friday) night was the biggest punch to the gut we’ve taken this season,” Mazey said. “And we punched them right back today, so both of us have sore guts going into tomorrow.”