MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Four walks and a hit batter scored two runs in the ninth inning as the West Virginia University baseball team walked off against No. 3 TCU for the second time in three games with a 5-4 win on Sunday afternoon.
The Mountaineers (21-13, 8-4 Big 12) did not record a hit in the ninth inning, but a walk to senior first baseman Jackson Cramer on a 3-2 pitch with the bases loaded scored the tying run, and a two-out walk to sophomore right fielder Darius Hill scored the winning run. WVU earned the series win against the third-ranked Horned Frogs (28-7, 9-3 Big 12) after a 5-4, walk-off win on Friday night.
West Virginia has won all four Big 12 series to open conference play, and is tied for second place in the league with its 8-4 record, one game behind TCU.
The ninth inning rally began with sophomore pinch-hitter Ivan Gonzalez getting hit by a pitch with one out, and he was pinch-ran for by freshman TJ Lake. Sophomore second baseman Kyle Gray followed with a walk on a 3-1 count, and freshman pinch-hitter Kevin Brophy also walked on a 3-1 pitch to load the bases.
Cramer followed with a walk to bring home Lake and tie the game at 4-4. That signaled TCU closer Durbin Feltman’s first career blown save in 19 attempts. With Cal Coughlin in for Feltman, he got a strikeout for the second out of the inning. Hill then drew a walk on a 3-1 count to bring in Gray, the winning run.
The series win is WVU’s first against TCU in five seasons as Big 12 foes. It is TCU’s second series loss of the season and first in Big 12 play.
“Yeah, I’ve liked this team since day one, and the bullpen has always been where you’ve been looking for someone to step up,” WVU coach Randy Mazey said of his team. “I’ve been saying that since day one, but the competiveness on this team and how committed they are, I’ve always liked that. We went into this season saying ‘hey, we’re out to prove something.’ They keep telling us we’re not good enough to play in the postseason, so that’s what we’ve been using for motivation. The best way to motivate this team is to tell them they can’t do something.”
The walk-off ninth inning came after the WVU bullpen combined to allow no runs on six hits with eight strikeouts in 5.2 innings. It began with 2.1 innings from sophomore Braden Zarbnisky, was followed by 2.1 two-hit innings by freshman Sam Kessler and concluded with a 1-2-3 ninth inning by senior Jackson Sigman, who picked up his first career win.
“That was the difference,” Mazey said of WVU’s bullpen. “We throw up five-zeros at the end, out of the bullpen. 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. Kessler grabbed the ball, pounded the strike zone and so did Zarbnisky, and Sigman was really good. They left some guys on base out there but we just kept hanging around and gave ourselves a chance to win it.”
Before the Mountaineers took a 1-0 lead in the first inning, TCU threatened in the top of the frame, but freshman right-handed starter Alek Manoah and freshman catcher Chase Illig caught two runners stealing to help get out of the inning. The first caught stealing was a pick-off, Manoah to Cramer to sophomore shortstop Jimmy Galusky and back to Manoah, while Illig threw out the runner at second base for the second out.
In the bottom of the inning, WVU answered with an RBI single by Cramer, scoring sophomore second baseman Kyle Gray, who led off the inning with a walk.
TCU tied the game at 1-1 with an RBI single, and the Mountaineers stranded two runners in the bottom of the frame. Manoah followed with a 1-2-3 inning in the third before West Virginia regained the lead with two runs in the third.
The inning began with a single by Zarbnisky, and Cramer followed with an RBI double off the wall in left-center. With two outs and a 1-2 count, junior left fielder Kyle Davis doubled home Cramer to give WVU a 3-1 advantage.
The Horned Frogs answered with three runs on four hits in the fourth inning to take a 4-3 lead. Back-to-back singles was followed by an RBI double. A wild pitch scored another before a single scored the go-ahead run. Zarbnisky then took the mound and got the final two outs of the inning with back-to-back strikeouts and 3-2 pitches.
In 3.1 innings, Manoah allowed four runs on seven hits with three strikeouts and a walk.
After WVU stranded a runner on base in the fourth and fifth innings, TCU threatened in the sixth, but Zarbnisky picked runners off first and second, and Kessler entered the game with two outs and two on to get a strikeout to end the inning.
Kessler got a flyout to leave the bases loaded in the seventh, and got two strikeouts and a flyout to leave two runners on in the eighth.
Zarbnisky and Kessler both pitched 2.1 scoreless innings with four strikeouts. Zarbnisky allowed four hits with one walk, while Kessler gave up two hits with four walks.
In the ninth, Sigman entered the game with one runner on and no outs, but got three outs to send the game into the bottom of the inning, setting up WVU’s heroics. Sigman earned the win, the first of his career.
West Virginia faces in-state foe Marshall on Tuesday, April 18, at 6 p.m. ET at Appalachian Power Park in Charleston, West Virginia. WVU won the season’s first matchup between the two teams, 14-7 on April 4, in Morgantown. West Virginia has won five of the last six and 14 of the last 17 games in the series. Tickets to the game on April 18 in Charleston are available, and linked on the baseball schedule page on WVUsports.com.
NOTES: West Virginia improved to 21-13 on the season and is tied for second place in the Big 12 with an 8-4 record, one game out of first place … WVU is 8-4 against top-25 teams and has won 8 of its last 11 games … The Mountaineers earned their fifth consecutive series win and have won all four series in Big 12 play … WVU recorded its first series win against TCU, after posting a 2-13 record coming into the weekend … WVU scored two runs on no hits with four walks and a hit batter in the ninth inning … Jackson Sigman pitched a scoreless ninth inning and picked up his first career win … Jackson Cramer led the team with two hits, three RBIs and added two walks.
Single game tickets, flex plan tickets and mini packs for the 2017 WVU baseball season are on sale now. Fans can purchase tickets by calling 1-800-WVU GAME, going to WVUGAME.com or visiting the Mountaineer Ticket Office in the WVU Coliseum. The 2017 schedule is available on WVUsports.com.