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Derek Clark throws a complete-game gem to lead WVU past No. 25 Dallas Baptist in NCAA tournament

May 31—MORGANTOWN — With each swing and miss, each off-speed pitch that just caught the corner and every hard-hit ball that went right to one of his teammates, Derek Clark made a major statement on Friday.

That statement: He belongs.

To that point, his West Virginia teammates made the same announcement, as the Mountaineers cruised past No. 25 Dallas Baptist 4-1 in the opening round of the NCAA tournament of the Tucson (Ariz.) Regional at Hi Corbett Field.

BOX SCORE Logan Sauve hit a three-run home run to deep center and Reed Chumley added an RBI double, as the Mountaineers (34-23) advanced to Saturday's 10 p.m. winner's bracket game against Grand Canyon, which upset No. 21 Arizona 9-4.

"My first time being here, " Clark said. "I can't complain about that outing."

It was only just a year ago when no one in Division I baseball knew who Clark was.

For three years, the lefty had dominated Division II competition at Northwood (Mich.) University. But he stood only 5-foot-9—or as Clark tells it, he's really an inch shorter than what he's listed on the roster—and his fastball barely got above 90 mph, hardly the stuff that could compete at the highest level in college.

But there he was Friday, sending those fastballs past Dallas Baptist hitters who had combined for 111 home runs during the regular season.

"I had the fastball in working really well today, " Clark said. "The change-up late in counts was a key factor."

His breaking balls pounded both sides of the plate, each one of them seemingly giving Clark more and more confidence, as he wore his emotions on his sleeve, which has been his MO throughout this season.

At this point, it no longer mattered what the tape measure said about Clark. No tape measure known in creation can calculate how much heart and fight is on the inside of man.

Clark had plenty of both, not to mention the command of a NASCAR driver and a surgeon's precision.

"A lot of people had picked this pitching matchup today as the one to watch out for, " WVU head coach Randy Mazey said. "You got the little lefty against the big, tall righty with all the stuff.

"The little lefty had all the heart. The heart won today, for sure. That's how he won. That's how he always wins, with heart."

Clark didn't allow a hit until the third inning. He walked no one and struck out eight.

He backhanded one ball hit up the middle off his glove, ran a few feet to pick it up and threw out the runner to end the first inning.

In the third, when the Patriots (44-14) were on the cusp of grabbing some momentum with runners on the corners, Clark was downright nasty in picking off Michael Dattalo at first base to end the inning.

While Clark was cruising, WVU's offense was in the midst of erasing its own disappointment.

The Mountaineers were anything but sharp while going 0-2 in the Big 12 tournament last week, their third straight year of being two-and-done at the conference tournament.

The challenge, or so it was thought, would be on the WVU hitters against Dallas Baptist's 6-foot-6 ace Ryan Johnson.

Yet in the third inning, Benjamin Lumsden drew a walk and Skylar King sacrificed him over. J.J. Wetherholt was then hit by a pitch in the back of the leg.

That brought up Sauve, who drove Johnson's first pitch 390 feet over the batter's eye in center field for a 3-0 lead.

Before the at-bat, Mazey told Sauve what to look for.

"Coach Mazey told me to stick to a right-center approach, " Sauve said. "I picked it up pretty early. It got over the plate and I put a barrel on it."

Johnson, projected as a top 50 prospect in the 2024 Major League Baseball draft, was taken out after six innings. He gave up six hits, two walks and four runs.

That would be all Clark needed to pick up his eighth win of the season, but in the sixth inning, Chumley's double scored Sam White for a 4-0 lead.

All Dallas Baptist could muster against Clark was a sacrifice fly in the eighth inning that scored Nathan Humphreys. Clark then forced a fly ball and a ground out to end that inning.

There was no action in the Mountaineers' bullpen, as Clark came out in the ninth. This was truly his moment, his game.

All those times he was told previously he was too small or not just imposing enough, well, Clark made a lot of people regret that thinking on this day.

It was his fourth complete game this season and the fifth time he pitched nine innings in a game. He needed just 101 pitches to get through it all.

Clark did get some help from his teammates in the final inning.

Grant Hussey caught one line drive that was barely above his foot. Brodie Kresser went to his knees and reached out for yet another line drive for the first two outs.

Ethan Mann flied out to center to end the game, as Sauve ran to the mound to embrace his triumphant pitcher.

Clark's dominance was best seen against the top of the Patriots' lineup.

A team that had simply tormented college pitching all season—averaging just under eight runs per game—now saw its first seven hitters go just 1 for 25.

"I told some people back in Morgantown when we left, 'Our fate on Friday is in this guy's hands and I wouldn't want it in any other player's hands, ' " Mazey said of Clark. "It's just incredible what he's done."

It was WVU's first win in the opening round of the NCAA tournament since 2019, when the Mountaineers hosted a regional back in Morgantown.

If WVU wins Saturday night, the Mountaineers will advance to the region's title game on Sunday and will have to lose twice to be eliminated.

If WVU loses Saturday, the Mountaineers will drop down to the loser's bracket game and will play at 3 p.m. Sunday for the right to go to the championship game.