The Horned Frogs halted WVU's four-game winning streak, completing a three-game sweep of the weekend series with a 3-1 win in the second game of Saturday's doubleheader. That came on the heels of hellish back-to-back performances by WVU, which blew a 3-1 lead in the ninth inning on Friday in a 4-3 loss and managed just one hit in an 8-0 defeat earlier today.
Worse, final game starter John Means was suddenly removed after three innings in the latest setback, and TCU took advantage of an already overworked and underperforming bullpen. WVU? It couldn't take advantage of anything, recording just five hits and the lone run as Alex Young won his first career start in scattering three hits in 4 1/3 innings. Tyler Alexander, who was slated to start, came on in relief for the hold while Riley Ferrell picked up the save with a flawless final two innings for TCU (19-12, 5-4 Big 12).
Means had allowed just one run on five hits before being pulled; His specific issue remained unclear, but judging by the prolonged time allotted reliever Michael Bennett to warm up, it does appear the decision was made late to remove Means, and it was a forced one, not simply a strategic move by head coach Randy Mazey. That would seem to indicate injury, but WVU has not made an official announcement at this time.
Means entered with a 4-1 mark and 1.60 ERA, and had solidified the third starter position for a team badly lacking any reliable pitching past the starters. Now, it is unclear when Means might return, and that leaves a West Virginia team reeling after three straight losses with even bigger question marks going into a Tuesday game at Penn State and a three-game weekend home series versus Oklahoma State on April 11-13.
Besides the bullpen issues and the potential for Means to miss time, the Mountaineer offense has suddenly gone missing. West Virginia (16-11, 2-3) has managed just six hits and one run in its last 18 innings of play; in the first game of the doubleheader, Bobby Boyd was the lone Mountaineer to reach base as the remainder of the line-up went zero-for-25. In the nightcap, the first five WVU hitters – Taylor Munden, Boyd, Billy Fleming, Ryan McBroom and Jacob Rice – went zero-for-20. Max Nogay and Michael Constantini, the six and eight hitters, got two hits apiece with Nogay scoring the run.
Means, meanwhile, lacked his sharpest stuff and needed an unassisted triple play to get out of a two-on, no-out jam in his third and final inning after TCU took a 1-0 lead. Munden caught a liner at shortstop, stepped on second and then tagged the runner from first. That signaled the end for Means, and Bennett came on to begin the typical parade of relievers. The right-hander – by far the most dependable option in a badly lacking bullpen – quickly retired the side in the fourth inning and it appeared the Mountaineers were comfortable. Bennett, however, was pulled in favor of Zach Bargeron after allowing two singles around two outs to begin the fifth inning.
That move imploded, Bargeron firing a wild pitch and allowing a walk and a single as TCU plated a pair of runs on two hits for the 3-1 lead after five innings. The lefty was hurt by an error in the sixth inning, and gave way to Trevor Simms, who combined with Joby Lapkowicz, a senior from Carmichaels, Pa., to finish the game. The effort was enough to give a stagnating offense a chance. But, much like when the Mountaineers were one-hit in the early game, the offense seemed stymied throughout and never mounted any kind of threat over the final three innings. Just one WVU player reached base in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings combined as the Mountaineers lost the opening Big 12 series for the second straight season.
Derek O'Dell drove in the lone TCU run through four innings on a single through the left side to score catcher Kyle Bacack. West Virginia tied the game at 1-1in the fifth inning when Nogay led off with a single, advance to second on a groundout and moved to third on a balk. He then scored on the RBI single by Constantini. It was the first run in 13 1/3 innings of play for WVU, and the Mountaineers were set-up to add more when Young walked Ray Guerrini, the nine-hitter. Munden, however, struck out in the leadoff spot, and Boyd grounded out to end the threat before TCU scored two runs in the bottom half for the 3-1 lead.
TCU, which had 16 hits in the first game of the doubleheader, finished with 10, led by two from four different players including O'Dell. Bennett (2-2) was saddled with the loss, his second in as many days.