Walk-off walk sends WVU baseball to series win over No. 3 TCU

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Four walks and a hit batter scored two runs in the ninth inning as the West Virginia University baseball team walked off against No. 3 TCU for the second time in three games with a 5-4 win on Sunday afternoon at home.

The Mountaineers (21-13, 8-4 Big 12) did not record a hit in the ninth inning, but a walk to senior first baseman Jackson Cramer on a 3-2 pitch with the bases loaded scored the tying run, and a two-out walk to sophomore right fielder Darius Hill scored the winning run. WVU earned the series win against the third-ranked Horned Frogs (28-7, 9-3 Big 12) after a 5-4, walk-off win on Friday night.

West Virginia has won all four Big 12 series to open conference play, and is tied for second place in the league with its 8-4 record, one game behind TCU.

The ninth inning rally began with sophomore pinch-hitter Ivan Gonzalez getting hit by a pitch with one out, and he was pinch-ran for by freshman TJ Lake. Sophomore second baseman Kyle Gray followed with a walk on a 3-1 count, and freshman pinch-hitter Kevin Brophy also walked on a 3-1 pitch to load the bases.

Cramer followed with a walk to bring home Lake and tie the game at 4-4. That signaled TCU closer Durbin Feltman’s first career blown save in 19 attempts. With Cal Coughlin in for Feltman, he got a strikeout for the second out of the inning. Hill then drew a walk on a 3-1 count to bring in Gray, the winning run.

The series win is WVU’s first against TCU in five seasons as Big 12 foes. It is TCU’s second series loss of the season and first in Big 12 play.

“Yeah, I’ve liked this team since day one, and the bullpen has always been where you’ve been looking for someone to step up,” WVU coach Randy Mazey said of his team. “I’ve been saying that since day one, but the competiveness on this team and how committed they are, I’ve always liked that. We went into this season saying ‘hey, we’re out to prove something.’ They keep telling us we’re not good enough to play in the postseason, so that’s what we’ve been using for motivation. The best way to motivate this team is to tell them they can’t do something.”

The walk-off ninth inning came after the WVU bullpen combined to allow no runs on six hits with eight strikeouts in 5.2 innings. It began with 2.1 innings from sophomore Braden Zarbnisky, was followed by 2.1 two-hit innings by freshman Sam Kessler and concluded with a 1-2-3 ninth inning by senior Jackson Sigman, who picked up his first career win.

“That was the difference,” Mazey said of WVU’s bullpen. “We throw up five-zeros at the end, out of the bullpen. Everybody is naturally thinking where were those guys yesterday when you needed them. It was a different day, different atmosphere, we had a pitcher’s meeting before the game today and talked about getting right back out there and getting a second chance to prove yourself as a bullpen. Kessler grabbed the ball, pounded the strike zone and so did Zarbnisky, and Sigman was really good. They left some guys on base out there but we just kept hanging around and gave ourselves a chance to win it.”

Before the Mountaineers took a 1-0 lead in the first inning, TCU threatened in the top of the frame, but freshman right-handed starter Alek Manoah and freshman catcher Chase Illig caught two runners stealing to help get out of the inning. The first caught stealing was a pick-off, Manoah to Cramer to sophomore shortstop Jimmy Galusky and back to Manoah, while Illig threw out the runner at second base for the second out.

In the bottom of the inning, WVU answered with an RBI single by Cramer, scoring sophomore second baseman Kyle Gray, who led off the inning with a walk.

TCU tied the game at 1-1 with an RBI single, and the Mountaineers stranded two runners in the bottom of the frame. Manoah followed with a 1-2-3 inning in the third before West Virginia regained the lead with two runs in the third.

The inning began with a single by Zarbnisky, and Cramer followed with an RBI double off the wall in left-center. With two outs and a 1-2 count, junior left fielder Kyle Davis doubled home Cramer to give WVU a 3-1 advantage.

The Horned Frogs answered with three runs on four hits in the fourth inning to take a 4-3 lead. Back-to-back singles was followed by an RBI double. A wild pitch scored another before a single scored the go-ahead run. Zarbnisky then took the mound and got the final two outs of the inning with back-to-back strikeouts and 3-2 pitches.

In 3.1 innings, Manoah allowed four runs on seven hits with three strikeouts and a walk.

After WVU stranded a runner on base in the fourth and fifth innings, TCU threatened in the sixth, but Zarbnisky picked runners off first and second, and Kessler entered the game with two outs and two on to get a strikeout to end the inning.

Kessler got a flyout to leave the bases loaded in the seventh, and got two strikeouts and a flyout to leave two runners on in the eighth.

Zarbnisky and Kessler both pitched 2.1 scoreless innings with four strikeouts. Zarbnisky allowed four hits with one walk, while Kessler gave up two hits with four walks.

In the ninth, Sigman entered the game with one runner on and no outs, but got three outs to send the game into the bottom of the inning, setting up WVU’s heroics. Sigman earned the win, the first of his career.

NOTES: West Virginia improved to 21-13 on the season and is tied for second place in the Big 12 with an 8-4 record, one game out of first place … WVU is 8-4 against top-25 teams and has won 8 of its last 11 games … The Mountaineers earned their fifth consecutive series win and have won all four series in Big 12 play … WVU recorded its first series win against TCU, after posting a 2-13 record coming into the weekend … WVU scored two runs on no hits with four walks and a hit batter in the ninth inning … Jackson Sigman pitched a scoreless ninth inning and picked up his first career win … Jackson Cramer led the team with two hits, three RBIs and added two walks.

TCU 8,

West Virginia 6

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – The West Virginia University baseball team dropped the second game of a three-game series to No. 3 TCU, 8-6, on Saturday afternoon.

A record crowd of 3,415 fans saw the game at Monongalia County Ballpark, the largest home crowd in program history.

The Mountaineers (20-13, 7-4 Big 12) scored runs in each of the first four innings, but the third-ranked Horned Frogs (28-6, 9-2 Big 12) rallied with a run in the sixth and five runs in the eighth inning. The loss evened the series at 1-1, after WVU claimed a 5-4 walk-off victory in last night’s opener.

“Yeah that’s pretty obvious,” WVU coach Randy Mazey said of WVU’s youth on the mound. “We usually play intersquads every Wednesday, and for the guys that don’t pitch much, that’s their time to shine and earn their innings. The only difference is that on Wednesdays its intersquads and there’s nobody in the stands and the team they are facing isn’t ranked in the top five in the nation. So it’s hard to simulate what they went through today, but if you want to perform at this level and if we want this program to go where it’s going to go, this is the type of stage you need to perform in. They’ll get better from it, they are all, I think everybody we ran out in the last two innings was a freshman, and that’s literally their first time in an atmosphere like that.

“We like to call that expensive experience because it costs us a win, probably costs us first place in the league, but expensive experience is still experience, so that’s the best teacher. I believe that the next time those guys go out there, they will be better for it.”

Sophomore right-hander Michael Grove had another strong start, allowing two earned runs on six hits with nine strikeouts and three walks in 7.0 innings. Grove had his fourth quality start of the year, all coming in his last four starts. A week after taking a perfect game into the eighth inning, the Wheeling, West Virginia, native struck out at least eight batters for the fifth time in his last six starts.

Offensively, junior left fielder Kyle Davis and sophomore shortstop Jimmy Galusky both homered and had a team-high-tying two RBIs. Freshman right fielder Brandon White had a team-leading and career-high-tying three hits.

West Virginia jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the first inning on sophomore third baseman Cole Austin’s RBI single to left field. The base hit scored sophomore second baseman Kyle Gray, who led off the inning with a single.

After Grove threw a 1-2-3 top of the second, the Mountaineers added two runs in the bottom of the frame on Galusky’s home run down the left field line. The homer, his second of the season, scored sophomore designated hitter Braden Zarbnisky.

Grove retired TCU in order again in the third inning, and again WVU answered with a two-run home run to make it 5-0. This time it was Davis, who’s shot to left sailed just inside the left field foul pole and scored sophomore right fielder Darius Hill. It was his fourth home run of the year and 18th of his career.

TCU got on the board with a run in the top of the fourth inning on an RBI single with two outs, but West Virginia answered in the bottom half, on Hill’s single to left-center that scored senior first baseman Jackson Cramer.

The Horned Frogs scored one in the sixth inning on a home run by Evan Skoug, which cut the Mountaineer lead to 6-2, before the visitors plated five in the eighth to take a 7-6 lead, their first of the series since the first inning on Friday night.

With the bases loaded and no outs, senior righty Jackson Sigman entered the game and got a check-swing ground ball hit right to him on the first pitch of the at-bat to Luken Baker. Sigman got the double play, throwing home for the first out. A two-RBI single off of freshman right-hander Cody Wood followed, which made it a 6-4 game, and a wild pitch made it 6-5. A two-RBI double off of freshman righty Ryan McDonald scored the go-ahead run.

TCU added its final run on Skoug’s second home run in the ninth inning for the 8-6 final.

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