By Cam Huffman
West Virginia University senior catcher Alan Filauro had been behind the plate for nearly six hours and 21 innings Saturday at Linda K. Epling Stadium when he decided he wasn’t going to squat behind the dish anymore.
The South Salem, N.Y., native belted a liner into left field in the bottom half of the 12th inning to plate Ryan McBroom, who was hit by a pitch to lead off the frame, and give the Mountaineers (27-18, 9-6 Big 12) a 3-2 victory and a series sweep over Kansas.
“Right off the bat I knew it was going to fall in,” said Filauro, just before receiving a chilly ice bucket bath from his teammates. “I blocked out (the fatigue). My adrenaline was going, and that helped me out.”
WVU knocked off the Jayhawks (25-18, 9-9) 4-3 in the first game of Saturday’s doubleheader — which came about as a result of today’s wet forecast — after a 1-0 victory in the series opener Friday night. Filauro was also the hero of Saturday’s first game, when his second-inning homer gave the Mountaineers their decisive fourth run.
The catcher’s offensive heroics, though, were set up by WVU pitching, which was top-notch throughout the series.
Kansas native John Means started the final game of the series for the Mountaineers and was sharp through six innings, keeping the visitors off the scoreboard.
Ahead 2-0 after a pair of RBI sacrifice flies — Ryan Tuntland drove home Taylor Munden, who had led off the bottom of the first with a triple off the fence in center field, and Billy Fleming got McBroom, who had reached on a fielder’s choice, home with a long fly in the fourth — WVU took that lead into the seventh inning when Means started to run out of gas.
Alex DeLeon got KU on the scoreboard for the first time when he homered to left field to cut the lead in half, and KU tied it up later in that inning with a Jordan Dreiling double and a Ke’iana Eldredge RBI single back through the middle.
The score remained knotted through the next four innings, despite some threats by both teams.
KU had a chance to break the tie when it loaded the bases with one out in the eighth, but Pascal Paul came on in relief for WVU and closed that door.
He also shut the book on Means, who picked up a quality start, allowing two earned runs on seven hits through 7 1-3 innings. He struck out seven and didn’t walk a KU hitter.
“He really pitched well today,” said WVU’s first-year head coach Randy Mazey. “That’s a big bright spot for us coming out of the weekend.”
The Jayhawks loaded the bases again in the 10th, but this time Corey Walter, who pitched three strong innings of relief, got out of the jam, getting Connor McKay to ground out for the final out of the inning.
WVU’s best chance to win before the 12th came in the bottom of the ninth when Brady Wilson tried to score from second on a bouncer off the bat of McBroom, but he was gunned out at the plate by the KU pitcher, sending the game into extra innings.
Jordan Piché, one of the Big 12’s top relief pitchers, who had pitched three scoreless innings, plunked McBroom to start the WVU rally in the 12th, and McBroom moved to second on a hit-and-run.
The inning nearly ended when Jacob Rice lined to second base with one out, but Justin Fox, who had come on as a pinch runner, made it back to first to avoid a double play.
That brought Filauro to the plate, and he played the role of hero in front of a crowd of 1,159 with a screamer into the outfield that ended the game and began a celebration under a light rain.
“We’ve got the momentum going,” said Filauro. “We’re the underdogs so much, and we deal with more adversity than any other team. I’m just happy to prove the doubters wrong.
“It was great. The fans were great, and I’m happy to get three wins for them.”
Walter (4-4) was credited with the win for WVU, while Piché (5-2) took the loss for Kansas.
WVU ended the game with seven hits, although no Mountaineer had a multi-hit performance.
KU was led at the plate by DeLeon, who was 3-for-5 with an RBI. Tucker Tharp was 2-for-6.
Saturday’s twinbill began with a pitching gem from Dierdorff (3-5) who picked up a complete game win, settling down after giving up three runs in the first three innings to pitch the final six scoreless frames. He finished the game with three earned runs on seven hits and a walk. He struck out seven as WVU won the second game of a Big 12 series for the first time all season.
“We were throwing a lot of offspeed pitches in those first three innings,” said Dierdorff. “We got together and started throwing more fastballs. Once we started to do that, we started to roll.”
Wes Benjamin (4-5) took the loss for KU. He also went the distance, but he allowed four runs, only one earned, on four hits and a walk.
WVU scored its first three runs in the opening inning, which was allowed to continue when an error on Kansas second baseman Justin Protacio gave the Mountaineers runners on first and third with two outs.
A walk loaded the bases, and Billy Fleming cleared them with a double off the wall in left-center.
Kansas scored two runs in the second to get back in the game, but Filauro’s homer in the bottom of that inning gave WVU a 4-2 lead, and it held on for the one-run victory.
“It feels good,” said McBroom of the weekend sweep. “We’re an under the radar type team. So to get three wins against a big-time club like Kansas is a big series for us.”
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In its first season of Big 12 play, WVU is playing well above expectations. The Mountaineers, a unanimous pick by the league’s coaches in the preseason to finish in the basement, were tied with Baylor for third in the nine-team baseball conference at press time Saturday, just a half-game behind Kansas State (9-5) for the second spot.
“The day those rankings came out was in the middle of a spring practice,” said Mazey. “When I found out every coach in the league picked us to finish last, we called timeout in the middle of practice and called everybody together. I said, ‘Guys, I’ve got some good news for you. Everybody in the league thinks we’re the worst team in the league.’ From that moment on, I think our guys have come out every game to prove something.”
WVU will return home for a rare game at Morgantown’s Hawley Field Tuesday at 6 p.m. when rival Pitt makes a visit. The Mountaineers will then take on Big 12-leading Oklahoma in a three-game series at Charleston’s Appalachian Power Park over the weekend.
The Mountaineers will play one last game in Beckley this year on May 14 when they take on Marshall for the decisive game of a three-game set between the two state schools.
— E-mail: chuffman
@register-herald.com and follow on Twitter @CamHuffmanRH.