It was a gold and blue night at Hunnicutt Field, with the playing of “Country Roads” capping off a winning nine innings for the Mountaineers.
West Virginia rallied for two runs in the bottom of the eighth, and converted closer Sean Carley shut down Virginia Tech in the ninth, as the Mountaineers squeaked past the Hokies 4-3 at a packed Hunnicutt Field on Tuesday night.
Even though the game was played in Princeton, it was a “home” game for the Mountaineers, with the announced attendance of 2,084 the eighth largest crowd for a West Virginia baseball game in program history.
Most of that audience appeared to be fans of West Virginia, even though Virginia Tech is less than an hour from Princeton.
“We saw it was sold out and honestly we thought there was going to be a lot more Virginia Tech fans here based on the proximity that it is to their school, but we came in here and it was flooded with blue and gold,” Carley said. “There is no better feeling. Obviously the fans were out here rooting for us...It was huge and we can’t thank them enough.”
Virginia Tech (19-27-1) led three times, at 1-0, 2-1 and 3-2, but as has become custom for the Hokies this season, close games just haven’t gone their way, having dropped 10 of its last 11 games, including six of those by two runs or less.
“This one is hard, this one is especially hard,” Virginia Tech head coach Pat Mason said. “I thought we gave it away, personally. I didn’t think we played the eighth inning like an ACC team should play the eighth inning.”
West Virginia (27-17) head coach Randy Mazey, whose Mountaineers had won two of three from No. 11 Texas over the weekend, acknowledged his concern for a mid-week game against the struggling Hokies.
“It was one of those games where you can look on the schedule and pick out the trap games, after you come off an emotional weekend against Texas like we did,” Mazey said. “Our guys aren’t naive to the Internet and social media, they see Virginia Tech is under .500, their RPI is not high, that is where leadership comes in.”
They played like it, especially when it counted most.
Virginia Tech had taken a 3-2 lead in the top of the eighth when Sean Keselica drew a one-out walk from Ryan Tezak (4-0), hustled to second when catcher Cam O’Brien committed a passed ball and scored on a single to center by Phil Sciretta.
Keselica (3-4), who had been playing first base, took on the mound in the bottom of the eighth. He plunked O’Brien with a pitch and Ryan McBroom followed with a one-out double off the left field fence that leaping Logan Bible was unable to catch, putting runners on second and third.
“That is what happens when you give away base runners,” Mason said. “We score a run, then you hit the first batter, it is just momentum, boom, and they are right back in their dugout. (McBroom) just stayed back enough on the change-up and the ball carried, strong kid, it was a good at-bat.”
Jacob Rice, who had tied the score in sixth with an RBI single, did it again in the eight, hitting a shot that center fielder Saige Jenco dived for, but couldn’t make the catch. O’Brien scored to tie it at 3-3.
“I was really just trying to put the ball in play, put the ball either on the ground or in the air, and score the guy from third,” Rice said. “I was just fortunate. I got it deep enough so I wasn’t really worried about it falling, I was just glad it did.”
Keselica then walked Brad Johnson intentionally, which loaded the bases for former Magnolia football star Justin Fox, who followed with a pinch-hit double play ground ball to Ricky Surum at shortstop, but Fox hustled down the line and beat the high relay throw to first, allowing McBroom to score what proved to be the winning run.
The 6-foot-4, 250-pound Carley, who had been a key starter for West Virginia for much of the season, replaced Tezak in the ninth, having moved to the closer’s role in recent weeks.
Carley retired a pair of Virginia Tech pinch-hitters to open the ninth before Saige Jenco, who had three hits despite having a toenail removed on Sunday, reached on an infield single.
Not a problem for Carley, who is beginning to enjoy his new role, which began after the Mountaineers dropped a pair of weekend series in the Big 12. Since then, West Virginia is 11-2, with hopes still alive for a postseason berth.
“We are playing game by game and we have got to win each game, one at a time,” said Carley, who retired Perez on a ground ball to end the game. “Obviously if we get in position to win the game, I am coming in in the ninth and I like our chances.”
Virginia Tech out-hit the Mountaineers 11-10, led by Jenco with three hits and two apiece from Keselica and Sciretta, but the Hokies had two runners thrown out at the plate, had another runner picked off first to nullify and first and third and one out situation, and also had a runner caught stealing at second base. Sciretta had to RBIs for the Hokies.
“Baseball is a crazy game,” Mazey said. “That is why we work on all that stuff, all the picks and everything we do in the indoor facility before the season starts, that is when it shows up in a game like that.”
Sciretta put the Hokies up 1-0 in the second, reaching on a force play when McBroom couldn’t handle a throw at first. He moved up on a passed ball and scored on a single by Surum. West Virginia, which had to play without leadoff batter Bobby Boyd — who is out with a wrist injury — tied it up in the fourth with consecutive singles by O’Brien, Billy Fleming and McBroom off Virginia Tech freshman Aaron McGarity.
The Hokies went back up in the sixth when Brendon Hayden doubled down the right field line and scored on a single by Sciretta. West Virginia tied it again in the bottom of that inning when Fleming singled, moved to second on a bobble in the outfield — the only error in the game — and scored on a single from Rice.
That set up the heroics in the eighth, with the Mountaineers answering a Virginia Tech run with two of their own, and then holding on in the ninth to make the four-hour drive back to Morgantown a happy ride.
Fleming led the Mountaineers with three hits, while Rice and McBroom had two apiece. Rice also drove in two runs. O’Brien scored twice.
Mazey definitely enjoyed his first game back in Princeton since playing for the Appalachian League’s Burlington Indians against the Princeton Pirates way back in 1988.
“I was kind of surprised. A lot of people told me it would be a predominantly Hokie crowd, but I don’t think that was the case,” said Mazey, at the predominance of West Virginia fans on hand. “I wish we would have given them a little more to cheer about, it wasn’t the most exciting game in the world.
“We had our moments and absolutely, thanks to everyone for coming out here and hopefully they saw enough out of the Mountaineers to make a trip to Morgantown some time.”
—Contact Brian Woodson at firstname.lastname@example.org and
on Twitter @bdtwoodson.
at Hunnicutt Field
Virginia Tech..........010 001 010 — 3 11 1
West Virginia..........000 101 02x — 4 10 0
Aaron McGarity, Tanner McIntyre (7), Sean Keselica and Mark Zagunis. Corey Walter, Ryan Tezak (8), Sean Carley (9) and Cam O’Brien. W—Tezak (4-0), L—Keselica (3-4); S—Carley (3). HR—none. Att—2,084.