Mountaineers slug their way past Penn State, 14-2

GRANVILLE, W.Va. — Two weeks ago, West Virginia put forth perhaps its worst showing of the season when self-inflicted mistakes played a major role in the Mountaineers’ 11-6 loss at Penn State.

The rematch with the Nittany Lions came Tuesday at Wagener Field in the final meeting between the teams this season. While West Virginia was fresh off a weekend sweep of TCU that left it atop the Big 12 standings, the 18th-ranked Mountaineers were locked in on getting even with Penn State, and it sure showed.

JJ Wetherholt opened the scoring with a grand slam in the third inning and teammate Grant Hussey belted one of his own in the fourth as West Virginia rolled to a 14-2 victory.

“This was one we definitely had circled. We gave them the game at their place,” Wetherholt said. “I don’t really get mad about losing a lot, but that game I was fired up. I was embarrassed. I hated that loss so much so I definitely wanted to get them this time and I think a lot of the guys kind of felt that way. We had a little chip on our shoulder and we just wanted to take it after them. This is definitely a game you could let slip by because of the sweep, but we used the last time against those guys to fire us up a little bit.”

In the starting lineup for the first time since suffering a thumb injury April 14 at Oklahoma State that forced him to miss five games, Wetherholt was slotted second in the lineup and grounded out to second in his first at bat. When he came back to the plate in the third, he did so with the bags packed after singles from Braden Barry and Sam White to go with a walk drawn by Tevin Tucker.

Wetherholt took a 1-1 offering from PSU starting pitcher Tommy Molsky and sent it over the fence in right field to give West Virginia (30-11) a 4-0 advantage.

“It’s been like that since the first day of fall practice. Nothing he does surprises us at this point,” WVU manager Randy Mazey said. “The law of averages tells you you’re not able to do what he’s doing, but he’s doing it in spite of that. He’s playing with a tremendous amount of confidence and always has. The guys are rallying around him. It’s a fun group to watch. I literally do nothing. I just stand there and watch our guys play.”

Grant Norris’ double allowed Jay Harry to score the first Penn State (23-14) run in the fourth, but what was a 4-1 deficit then grew to be much more in the bottom of that frame.

The Mountaineers sent 11 batters to the plate in the inning, which nearly featured another grand slam from Wetherholt. This time, he instead settled for a sacrifice fly to left that brought Barry in with the fifth run.

“In normal wind conditions at this field, that would be another grand slam,” Mazey said. 

That also marked the end of a short relief outing from Ryan Partridge, who was replaced by Connor Throneberry.

Throneberry surrendered a two-run single to McNeely that made it 7-1, and Ellis Garcia added an RBI single soon after for a seven-run lead.

That set the stage for Hussey, who immediately followed with West Virginia’s second grand slam of the contest to center on a 1-0 pitch from Throneberry.

It was Hussey’s team-leading 10th home run, including six in his last 14 contests.

“I’ve been getting fastballs,” Hussey said, “and trying to lay off all the spinning stuff in the dirt and get into those hitters counts to drive fastballs.”

The Mountaineers tacked on single runs in the fifth on a Landon Wallace single and in the sixth on Logan Sauve’s home run, which came in the bottom half of an inning that Penn State’s Bobby Marsh also connected for a solo home run.

West Virginia, winners of five straight and seven of eight since the loss at PSU on April 11, was pleased to put forth a far better showing against the Nittany Lions. The first time around, the Mountaineers were their own worst enemy and allowed five unearned runs.

Wetherholt, McNeely, Hussey and Barry had two hits apiece in the victory, which came before a crowd of 3,475.

“What an unbelievable atmosphere again. People are having so much fun watching West Virginia baseball right now,” Mazey said. “I can’t imagine there’s been a better time in the history of West Virginia baseball with atmospheres, winning games and people having fun. It’s just been electric the past couple weeks and we hope it continues.”

Wetherholt, who cleared the bases with a double during a pinch hit appearance in Sunday’s win over TCU, upped his season average to .459. He was the designated hitter and has not played defense since suffering the thumb injury, though Mazey said there is hope for him to do that at some point during the upcoming weekend series at Baylor.

“I’m feeling pretty good. I just have to keep getting healthy and get this thumb thing completely figured out, but we’re feeling good right now,” Wetherholt said.

Carson Estridge started for WVU, threw 3 2/3 innings and allowed one run on two hits. He struck out three and walked one.

The Mountaineers utilized five pitchers after Estridge, including Gavin Van Kempen, who recorded the win after allowing one run with three strikeouts in two innings.

PSU also had six pitchers toe the rubber. Molsky suffered the loss. He scattered four runs on three hits over three innings. Throneberry faced five batters and failed to record an out.

WVU finished with 13 hits to Penn State’s three.

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