The Mountaineers, held scoreless over the previous five innings, put runners on second and third with no outs after a walk by Justin Cramer and Cam O'Brien's double off KSU's Jake Matthys that hit midway up the centerfield wall to come within three feet of tying the game. After Trevor Simms pinch ran for O'Brien, Matthys threw a wild pitch that plated Cramer to pull WVU within 5-4. Nine-hitter Michael Constantini then walked, putting runners at the corners and signaling the end for Matthys.
Fellow right-hander Ethan Landon entered and immediately loaded the bases with a free pass to Taylor Munden. That set-up Bobby Boyd's sac fly to right field to tie – on which Justin Fox, pinch running for Constantini, alertly tagged and advanced to third – before Fleming won it with a grounder to second on which the Wildcats tried to turn two. Fleming beat the throw just as Fox crossed the plate, and the Mountaineers (23-16, 6-7 Big 12) had their fifth win in a row and seventh in eight games after a seven-game skid.
Fleming, among others, was mugged by teammates, who formed a dog pile as the crowd picked up the "Yes! Yes! Yes!" chant that has become a team refrain during the winning streak. The Hawley Field loudspeakers blared "Country Roads" as the Wildcats tamely retired to the dugout.
"We deserved it," WVU head coach Randy Mazey said. "We deserved it after all the ones we lost like that. We kinda got the guys together in the dugout after the 8th inning and said ‘Let's go win this.' And they did. In baseball, you kinda live for the dog pile. There aren't a lot of chances to get excited, so when you have one, you take it. There were so many big plays in that ninth inning; Cramer taking that close 3-2 pitch, Justin Fox's tag-up to move to third, O'Brien's hit."
The latter came from the left side, where the switch hitter is seeing everything well of late. O'Brien, now firmly entrenched as West Virginia's starting catcher, deserves just as much credit for managing starter John Means through a difficult outing. Means allowed all five Kansas State runs in a rough first three innings in which the left-hander struggled with pitch location, especially with his change-up. Means finished allowing all 12 KSU hits while recording three strikeouts against just one walk.
"He really was struggling with his change-up," O'Brien said. "Everything was high, and he couldn't locate the change-up. His confidence was gone because he didn't have that pitch. But I kept calling it, and in about the fifth inning I called three straight. He needed to establish that. The first two he buried, and the third he got in there, and I think from there his confidence came back and he started to keep the ball down and got going."
Means, whose ERA raised from 1.41 to 2.64, held the Wildcats (23-21, 4-10) scoreless over his final 3 2/3 innings in his first appearance in nine days; he allowed no runs on seven hits with six strikeouts and one walk in seven innings in a 7-0 win at Oklahoma on April 17. One could sense the junior starting to settle in the latter portions of the fourth inning. Means gained better command of the fastball, began to pepper the zone and kept hitters off balance with changeups just off the plate. He left with runners on the corners in the seventh, and Ryan Tezak – who retired seven of eight batters faced to record the win and move to 3-0 on the season – induced a groundout to end the frame. Tezak's ERA fell to 2.45.
Landon (0-1) took the loss for Kansas State, which used five pitchers. The Wildcats pulled starter Jordan Floyd after just four batters faced when he loaded the bases on walks; WVU scored two runs to lead KSU 2-1 after the first inning. K-State answered with two runs in the second and third innings to lead 5-2 before a Rice sac fly scored Fleming to cut the deficit to 5-3, where it would remain until the late heroics.
West Virginia tallied seven hits from six different players, including just one in the three-run ninth. Right fielder Brad Johnson went 2-for-4 with 2 RBI and was left on base three times. Fleming, McBroom and Rice all had hits near the top of the order, with Fleming and Rice recording RBI. McBroom drew two walks. Eight different Kansas State players recorded hits.
Ty Lallone, a 5-year-old kindergartener from Wellsburg, threw out the first pitch. Lallone has a heart condition, a bicuspid aortic valve that has been the cause of numerous youth athlete deaths because it is difficult to detect. Ty must visit a cardiologist every six months, with his most recent coming in January. He will undergo a surgery, called the Ross Procedure, that should aid in fixing the dysfunctional valve. Ty has difficulty playing organized sports because of the condition, meaning this opportunity was among the few he had to be in an athletic spotlight. Ty tossed a right-handed fastball, getting a rousing ovation from both WVU and Kansas State fans.
The teams play the final game of the series at noon Sunday. WVU, which now leads the all-time series 3-2, will start Ross Vance (2-0, 3.00 ERA), who has won his last two midweek starts versus Ohio State and Maryland while allowing just two earned runs over 17 innings with 20 strikeouts and three walks. Kansas State counters with right-hander Nate Griep (3-3, 3.12 ERA).