|Left-hander Ross Vance's high leg kick throws batters off before the pitch is even thrown.
|All-Pro Photography/Dale Sparks photo
Going into Tuesday’s game against Ohio State, fans may have wondered why WVU baseball coach Randy Mazey was starting a pitcher with a 7.50 ERA in only six innings pitched.
Or for that matter, a pitcher who had gone just one full inning or longer in two of his 10 appearances.
Mazey believed that sophomore left-hander Ross Vance
deserved the opportunity after sitting down Oklahoma State in order in the top of the ninth on Sunday. It was the first time a Mountaineer pitcher had done so all game.
“That was a game I got to go out and show my stuff,” Vance says. “I went 1-2-3 on a few of their good hitters. It gave me a little momentum and some fighting ground to get another opportunity.”
Vance proved that he belonged, striking out 14 batters en route to a 4-1 complete-game victory over the Buckeyes. He allowed one run on eight hits with two walks in his first career start.
“It was nice to get a start and it was easier to get comfortable because I was able to work through what I started,” Vance says. “In the second inning they loaded the bases and I got a chance to throw a couple of strikeouts to get myself out of the inning.”
The strikeout total is a season high by a Mountaineer pitcher and ties TCU’s Brandon Finnegan for the season high in the Big 12 Conference.
When you watch Vance on the mound, he is not an imposing figure, standing at 5-foot-11 and weighing in at 165 pounds. His fastball is routinely clocked between 79 and 81 miles per hour, but his deceptive windup and movement on the ball is what makes him effective.
Vance has a Hideo Nomo-esque windup and then throws the pitch from different arm slots; making no two pitches look the same.
“I’ve never been a high velocity guy. I need to be the guy that mixes it up, keeps it away from the barrel and keep hitters off balance,” Vance says. “I’ve always had the strikeout card in my back pocket because I can move the ball around so much, it’s just difficult to hit. If they do hit it, it’s not often that they square it up multiple batters in a row.”
Vance, a native of McKinney, Texas, used the snow and wind that swirled into his face during Tuesday’s game to his advantage. With the wind, it made his pitches twist and turn even more than they usually do.
His breaking ball hit two of his 14 strikeout victims, but each batter was called out for swinging at the pitch.
“With games like Tuesday when I have the wind blowing in my face, it moves so much that if I was to throw it to a lefty, in order to get it middle-in, I would have to go through his back to get it there,” Vance says. “My only choice was to put it on the outside corner or put it outside the zone, so I actually went to a cutter that had a little smaller, sharper break. I was a lot more successful using it as a breaking ball to left-handed hitters later in the game and I stuck with the big slider to righties.”
The downfall of having such a big break on his slider is that some umpires step away before the pitch even comes back and crosses the plate. Because of this Vance has made sure to make the home plate umpires aware of the breaking ball.
“I’ve seen a lot of times where it fools the umpire,” Vance says. “Before the game you always see the umpire bend down and watch a couple of warm-ups. I always make sure when he down that I throw one or two, so he gets to see.
While Vance hopes to continue in the role of a midweek starter, he will continue to do whatever he needs to in order to help the team win on the weekends.
“Any role that I can help the team, it doesn’t matter to me,” Vance says. “That’s what I’m here to do, I’m here for the Mountaineers.”