— by Luke Wiggs
ARLINGTON, Tex. — West Virginia bowed out of the Big 12 Tournament early.
For the second time in as many days, the Mountaineers suffered a loss as they fell to Kansas State 8-5 on Thursday.
After falling behind Oklahoma early in a 6-4 loss Wednesday, the opposition again scored first, with Kansas State plating two runs on run-scoring hits by Nick Goodwin and Dylan Phillips.
WVU starter Ben Hampton issued three walks in the top of the second, with the third to Cash Rugely coming with the bases loaded to score Kaelen Culpepper from third, making it 3-0 Wildcats through two innings.
The WVU offense finally struck in the bottom of the third. After a lead off single by Tevin Tucker, Mountaineer catcher McGwire Holbrook, Braden Barry, and Dayne Leonard all supplied RBI singles to tie the game and snap an 0-for-14 slump with runners in scoring position.
“For us to have success we need to get guys on base and use our speed,” said WVU coach Randy Mazey, “We weren’t able to run much down here, and we didn’t get a big hit. But we were in a position to.”
“Everyone goes through a period in a season where you lose three or four games in a row and aren’t playing well,” Mazey continued. “That hasn’t happened to us this year — maybe this is it.”
The Wildcats struck back in the 5th, Dylan Phillips led off the frame with a single and later scored on a Justin Mitchell RBI.
Kansas State added to the lead via a Dominic Johnson solo home run to left for his 12th long ball of the season.
Cash Rugely followed suit with an RBI single and came around to score on a Dylan Phillips single, making it 6-3 Wildcats in the top of the sixth.
Kansas State added insurance in the top of seventh, after recording the first two outs of the inning, WVU reliever Chase Smith allowed consecutive singles then consecutive walks, the last free pass again to Rugely, which scored Justin Mitchell making it 7-3.
“Here’s a kid (Rugely) that hasn’t played a lot lately,” said Kansas State head coach Pete Hughes, “To have that discipline on at bats and slow the game down, just two veteran at bats.”
Wildcat starter Blake Adams, after allowing three runs in the third, retired 12 of 13 WVU hitters before he was chased from the game by a Victor Scott double off the wall that scored J.J. Wetherholt, who was hit by a pitch.
Kansas State Reliever Ty Ruhl then came in and stranded Scott by forcing Holbrook to ground out.
The Wildcats added another insurance run in the top of the ninth after Josh Nicoloff hit a leadoff double and scored on consecutive bunts, one a safety squeeze from Raphael Pellitier sending the game to the final frame with an 8-4 Kansas State advantage.
West Virginia attempted to rally late with Grant Hussey and Kevin Dowdell both walking to begin the inning. Hussey came in to score on a JJ Weatherholt sacrifice fly but that was all the Mountaineers could muster going two-and-out for just the second time in their history in the Big 12 Conference.
“I just told the guys, ‘Don’t anybody leave this huddle thinking the season is over’.” Mazey said, “As good as we’ve played this year I think we have put ourselves in a position to play in the postseason. If we don’t, somebody will have to explain to me how that happened.”
The Mountaineers now await their postseason fate, which will be determined Monday.