It may have taken five years, but West Virginia finally got the job done.
For the first time since joining the Big 12, the West Virginia baseball team (21-13, 8-4 ) captured its first series win over national powerhouse No. 2/3 TCU (28-7, 9-3) since joining the Big 12 with a 5-4 walk-off win this afternoon at the Monongalia County Ballpark.
“That can change a season,” West Virginia head coach Randy Mazey said. “That can give your guys belief no matter if you’re facing the No. 1 closer in the United States. To go out and beat them on Sunday is a testament to this team.”
The two teams came into Sunday’s game even at 1-1. The Mountaineers won on a walk-off sacrifice fly from sophomore catcher Ivan Gonzalez on Friday night, but a bullpen collapse in Saturday’s game evened the series as TCU used a five-run eighth inning to overcome a four-run deficit to win 8-6.
Prior to Sunday’s series decider, Mazey made a promise, but it wasn’t the type of promise you’d expect him to make.
“I promised my kids that I’d wear an Easter Bunny suit the rest of the day if we walked-off TCU today,” Mazey said. “So, that’s where you’ll find me.”
Aside from the promise he made to his kids, Mazey also had a different feeling about Sunday’s game that would foreshadow the result.
“I actually told our guys going into this game today I felt like we were going to win this in walk-off fashion,” Mazey said.
Freshman right-handed pitcher Alek Manoah got the start in Sunday’s matchup and went 3.1 innings with three strikeouts and allowed four runs on seven hits.
With a pair of RBI doubles from senior first baseman Jackson Cramer and junior left fielder Kyle Davis, West Virginia took a 3-1 lead in the third inning, but TCU would again overcome some early adversity.
The Horned Frogs rallied to take the lead, scoring three runs in the fourth inning thanks to a two-run RBI ground-rule double from Nolan Brown, a wild pitch and an RBI single from Connor Wanhanen.
From there, West Virginia trailed 4-3 heading into the bottom of the ninth inning and had to face one of the country’s top closers in TCU’s Durbin Feltman, who has racked up nine saves this season.
West Virginia’s ninth inning rally began when Gonzalez was hit by a pitch. After that, Feltman walked two straight batters to load the bases. One more walk after that allowed the tying run to score.
With TCU having a 3:30 p.m. cutoff time for travel purposes, the game wouldn’t have gone into extra innings and would have instead resulted in a tie if TCU got one more out in the inning.
TCU’s Cam Coughlin then replaced Feltman on the mound. After striking out sophomore third baseman Cole Austin, Coughlin would walk sophomore right fielder Darius Hill to bring home the winning run and West Virginia’s fifth straight series win.
West Virginia’s bullpen also rose to the occasion after Saturday’s collapse. The bullpen allowed no runs on six hits with eight strikeouts in 5.2 innings thanks to solid performances from sophomore Braden Zarbnisky, freshman Sam Kessler and senior Jackson Sigman. This game was also Sigman’s first career win.
“That was the difference,” Mazey said. “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.”
The series win over TCU is the also the highest ranked opponent that West Virginia has beat in program history.
Now, the Mountaineers are now 8-4 over top-25 teams, second in the Big 12 and are once again making their case for their first NCAA Tournament bid since 1996.
The Mountaineers will next face Marshall in Charleston, W.Va. on Tuesday at 6 p.m.