All year long, West Virginia starting pitchers have routinely given the Mountaineers the lead going into the late innings. Far too often, a shaky performance from the relief staff has either made a sure win a dicey proposition, or given away a very winnable game. In a showing that had to have head coach Randy Mazey pulling his hair out, the Mountaineers (16-9, 2-1) followed that script again in a 4-3 loss to TCU on Friday night in Fort Worth, Tex.
As usual, a gritty starting performance was produced by reigning Big 12 pitcher of the year Harrison Musgrave. The Mountaineer lefty did allow nine baserunners in seven innings, but made big pitches in key situations, holding TCU to just one run. Musgrave threw 116 pitches, but, as usual, pounded the strike zone with 82 of them. When he departed, the Mountaineers led 3-1, and were in position to move to 3-0 in Big 12 Conference play.
Again, though, the all-too-familiar scenario played out. Pascal Paul relieved in the bottom of the eighth, and looked to have regained his balance after some rocky recent outings. He got two outs to start the inning, but then allowed a single and hit the next batter on a 3-0 pitch. That got Mazey moving to the bullpen again, and Corey Walter came on to record a pop-up to end the inning.
In the ninth, however, the adventure continued. Walter walked the first two batters, and when Derek O'Dell's putative sacrifice bunt turned into a hit, the Frogs had the bases loaded with no outs. TCU then got a single and two sacrifice flies to push across the winning run. In the middle of the maelstrom, Michael Bennett replaced Walter, but was no more successful, as he allowed two hits and a walk as well as the sacrifices that plated the tying and winning runs.
The numbers from the ninth were ugly. Fourteen of WVU's first 18 pitches of the inning were balls, and the Mountaineers later followed that up with another four-pitch walk. In all, WVU's bullpen threw 45 pitches in the final two innings, and only 21 of those were strikes.
TCU (17-12, 3-4) did earn its first run of the game, putting four singles in the sixth, but managed to come up with just one run as it was forced to advance station-to-station on each hit. Keaton Jones drove in Boomer White with the final safety of the inning, a single to left, but Musgrave struck out Garret Crain with the bases loaded to prevent any further damage.
West Virginia's Jacob Rice and Taylor Munden were poised to be the hitting stars of the game, as each produced a two-out hit to account for WVU's three runs. Rice's opposite-field triple to right in the sixth scored Billy Fleming and Ryan McBroom, while Munden provided what appeared to be an insurance run with a hit to left that scored Michael Constantini in the top of the seventh.
The implosion ruined an excellent pitchers' duel between Musgrave and Brandon Finnegan. The TCU starter allowed four hits and walked three in 5.2 innings, but like Musgrave was able to avoid giving up the big hit -- at least until the sixth, when Rice's blast chased him after 100 throws. Trey Teakell came on to pitch the final 3.1 innings and earn the win. He gave up two hits and one earned run while striking out four.
The teams will meet again on Saturday in a doubleheader scheduled to being at 3:00 p.m. Eastern. The final game of the series, originally scheduled for Sunday, was moved up to Saturday to avoid the threat of bad weather.
WVU recorded just six hits in the contest, with all but one coming from the top five positions in the order.
Mazey did not appear for postgame comments on the radio broadcast.