The Mountaineers, owners of a team batting average of .292 coming in to the game, have relied on the top six hitters in the order to produce runs for much of the season. The final three, along with the bench, have had their moments, but it's been mostly the big six through the first month of the season. That script was flipped in this game, when Max Nogay (.233 on the season) and Jackson Cramer (.222) smacked the two biggest blasts of the contests to help the Mountaineers to a 1-0 lead in the three-game weekend series.
First it was Nogay, who took a pitch high and outside deep to left field, where it rode the prevailing wind over the wall to give the Mountaineers a 6-2 lead in the bottom of the sixth. Six innings later, it was Cramer who produced in the clutch, blasting a slider from reliever Josh Michalec to deep center for a double, which drove in Jacob Rice with the winning run. After the hit, Cramer was mobbed by his teammates, which resulted in a near undressing between second and third base. Cramer came out of the scrum with his jersey almost torn off and buttons missing, but the most noticeable feature was the huge smile on his face as he celebrated the victory with his teammates.
In truth, Cramer's heroics shouldn't have been needed. Nogay's blast put West Virginia in clear control of the contest, and after Harrison Musgrave set the Bears down in the top of the seventh, WVU need just six more outs for the win. However, as has happened several times this year, the bullpen imploded, allowing five Baylor runs to tie the game in the top of the ninth. Most of the damage was self-inflicted, as the Bears recorded just two hits in the frame, but were aided mightily by four walks and a hit batter to push across the tying runs.
WVU reliever Corey Walter appeared set to nail down the win without trouble, as he pitched a 1-2-3 eighth. However, he then walked two batters and allowed a hit to load the bases in the ninth with one out. Ross Vance came on and threw three pitches, which resulted in a hit batter and two balls. He was unceremoniously pulled in favor of Ryan Tezak, who also couldn't find the strike zone. Two more walks cut WVU's lead to 7-5, and Baylor's second single of the inning scored two runs to tie the score. Michael Bennett became the fourth pitcher of the inning, and he too seemed to catch the wildness bug, throwing three consecutive balls at the start of his appearance. However, Baylor outfielder Darryn Sheppard swung on a 3-0 pitch and popped out to the catcher, giving the Mountaineers a huge gift to get out of the inning.
The tenth and eleventh innings passed without much drama, although each team got a baserunner aboard. Bennett settled after his shaky start, getting nine outs against ten batters faced over the next three innings, which set the stage for Cramer's heroics.
Jacob Rice started off the 12th with a double that burned Sheppard, putting Cramer in the spotlight. After squaring to bunt on the first pitch, he reloaded and drove the ball over Logan Brown's head for the game-winner.
WVU starter Harrison Musgrave did not have his usual control, and he got off to a shaky start by loading the bases in the first with one out. He escaped that jam, but wound up throwing 114 pitches through seven innings, in which he allowed four hits and two earned runs. Uncharacteristically, he issued four walks, but did strike out five Bears. Baylor starter Brad Kuntz picked up steam after yielding two Mountaineer runs in the first, and blanked WVU over the next four innings before Nogay went deep in the sixth. Bennett (1-0) got the win for WVU, allowing just one hit over 3.1 innings while striking out two. Michalec (0-2) absorbed the loss after giving up three hits and one run in three innings of work.
Outside of Nogay and Cramer, Taylor Munden, Jacob Rice and Bobby Boyd were the hitting standouts for WVU. Munden was 3-6 with a double, while rice was 3-5 with a double, two RBI and two runs scored. Boyd again set the table with two hits in five at-bats and a run.
The second game of the three-game set is scheduled for Saturday, Mar. 29 at 4:00 p.m. at Appalachian Power Park in Charleston. WVU righthander Sean Carley (4-0, 2.82 ERA) is slated to square off against Baylor righty Austin Stone (3-1, 0.97 ERA).
The game was delayed for some ten minutes in the sixth when Kuntz called for a mound repair after allowing the first two Mountaineers to reach base against him. Some hoots from the West Virginia dugout followed, noting that Musgrave didn't see any problems with the mound, and that the timing of the request was suspicious. When Jacob Rice followed with a hit, the volume intensified, and when Nogay served up his home run, the irony of the moment was cemented.