GRANVILLE, W.Va. — After seeing his team outscored 16-2 over pair of losses to Texas in Saturday’s doubleheader, West Virginia manager Randy Mazey challenged the Mountaineers and their pride ahead of Sunday’s series finale.
It took some time for West Virginia to provide the response Mazey was seeking, and the Mountaineers trailed 3-0 before coming to bat on an ideal afternoon from Wagener Field at Monongalia County Ballpark.
But WVU overcame that early three-run deficit with a three spot of its own in the second, and the Mountaineers mixed a strong effort from their bullpen with production from the bottom of the batting order to salvage the series with an 8-6 victory over the Longhorns.
“It’s pretty obvious how we responded, especially when they throw up three in the first inning,” Mazey said. “An average team or a team without leadership would just roll over there and be like, ‘here we go again.’ We found a way and kept scratching and clawing. So many guys had great games. There were a ton of heroes today in the gold jerseys.”
The win allows West Virginia to improve to 28-18 overall and 10-8 within the Big 12 Conference. It also prevented the Mountaineers from being swept for the first time this season.
“Our team is resilient and we don’t like to lose, especially in the manner that we did Saturday,” said WVU third baseman Dayne Leonard, who led all players with four RBIs. “Especially playing a team like Texas with kind of the hatred we have for them, I guess you could say. It kind of fired us up and going down three right away today was a little gut check, but the way our team is and the personality we have on our team, it showed today we don’t give up and that’s who we are.”
Texas (34-17, 11-10) maintained its strong play from throughout the weekend early on, with its first three batters reaching against WVU starting pitcher Zach Bravo. The last of those three was Ivan Melendez, who one day after belting three home runs in the twin bill to give him 25 this season, doubled to plate Douglas Hodo III in his first at bat.
Murphy Stehly’s groundout to shortstop marked the game’s first out but enabled Austin Todd to score the Longhorns’ second run. After Bravo issued a base-on-balls to Silas Ardoin, his outing came to an end as Mazey called on Chase Smith to toe the rubber.
Dylan Campbell’s two-out single brought in Texas’ third run, but Smith limited the damage after inheriting a pair of baserunners.
West Virginia got a pair of timely two-out hits to pull even in the second, the first of which was Grant Hussey’s single that brought home McGwire Holbrook and Nathan Blasick. Tevin Tucker followed with a triple to left that scored Hussey.
“I told them before the game, ‘Texas is good. That’s one of the best teams in the whole country and this is an unbelievable opportunity to beat a good team,’” Mazey said. “Just like the University of Charleston came up here and everybody thought we were crazy for playing them and it’s a one-run game. But they had an unbelievable opportunity to beat a good team. How hard did they play that day?
“We went into this game saying, ‘we’re just like they were and we have an unbelievable opportunity to knock off one of the top 10 teams in the United States.’ In order to do that, you have to play a good game. Our guys brought energy and played a great game.”
The contest remained tied until the top of the fourth when Hodo III singled with two outs to bring in Campbell and Trey Faltine. Trey Braithwaite relieved Smith that inning and induced a fly ball to center from Stehly to strand the bases loaded.
WVU cut its deficit in half that inning as Hussey ripped a two-out double to left to score Leonard.
Braithwaite issued three consecutive walks in the top of the sixth, but the Longhorns squandered a prime opportunity to add to their advantage when Braithwaite struck out Stehly and induced a fly ball from Ardoin that ended the frame.
It proved to be a major turning point.
West Virginia loaded the bases to start the home half of the sixth, utilizing a Holbrook single, Braden Barry hit by pitch and Ben Abernathy’s pinch hit bunt single to get the go-ahead run in scoring position.
Leonard followed with a double just inside the first base bag on an 0-2 pitch that cleared the bases, turning a one-run deficit into a 7-5 lead for the Mountaineers.
“I always try to simplify it and see the ball and hit the ball,” Leonard said. “Not try to get too caught up in what they’re trying to do to me for the most part. But the first two were running in on me and I think the third one came back in on me. I kind of just blacked out and let everything else take over, but I was able to put one in play and that was my goal to put one in play.”
Abernathy and Leonard each came up big again in the eighth and combined to provide another run, which came on Leonard’s single that scored Abernathy, who had led off with a double.
“We had seven hits out of the bottom four spots in the lineup today, which we desperately need,” Mazey said.
WVU took the three-run lead into the ninth, but Braithwaite was relieved in favor of Noah Short before the second batter of the inning after Stehly reached on the game’s only error.
Although Short was immediately greeted by Ardoin’s single, he retired the next three batters and the Longhorns managed just one run courtesy of Campbell’s fielder’s choice.
There was thought Short wouldn’t be available at all in the game, and he instead managed to close it out for his second save this season.
“When we got to the field today, Noah wasn’t even here,” Mazey said. “He called in sick today and said, ‘I don’t think I can make it.’ We got some medicine to him and let him sleep. I said, ‘this is a 1 o’clock game, we’re not going to need you until at least 3, so you can sleep until 2 as far as I care.’ I looked up [right before the game] and there he was. I didn’t even know he was here. What a great way to end it with a guy who didn’t even plan on coming to the field today.”
Braithwaite recorded the win. He was charged with unearned run in 4 1/3 innings and struck out four while allowing two hits and issuing five walks.
Smith threw 3 1/3 innings and allowed two runs on five hits. He did not issue a base-on-balls and struck out a pair.
“Last night was obviously not what we wanted out of that day,” Braithwaite said. “Doubleheaders are tough. Chase did a great job today coming out of the first inning and giving us a little bit of length and a little bit of life. We came back and answered. It started with Chase and Chase did a great job for us right there.”
Tristan Stevens, the second of five Texas pitchers, took the loss after allowing three runs on three hits in three innings.
Campbell had three of his team’s 10 hits, while Hodo III and Skyler Messinger added two apiece in defeat.
Holbrook, Abernathy, Leonard and Hussey had two hits apiece in the victory. Leonard and Hussey combined to drive in all but one West Virginia run.
“No matter what kind of game you had individually,” Mazey said, “how can you not feel good about being a Mountaineer today?”