The Mountaineers (3-3) got a solid start from Chad Donato, but were hindered by multiple throwing errors, including two in the fourth inning and one of Donato’s own, in allowing three unearned runs to fall behind 5-1. Georgia Southern then secured its second straight series victory by tagging reliever Blake Smith with five runs in a nightmare sixth inning that was the catalyst for the most lopsided loss in the Randy Mazey era.
Donato (1-1) showcased solid control and seemed primed to pitch well into the midway point of the game even after GSU took a 2-0 lead in the first inning on Adam Mizell’s homerun to right center, then added an unearned run on catcher Ray Gerrini’s throwing error during a steal. The miscue allowed the runner to advance to third, then score on a sac fly one at-bat later. Still, Donato battled back and retired the side, then got help when Taylor Munden answered for West Virginia with a solo shot in the third to cut the deficit to 3-1.
But disaster struck in the fourth inning, when Hunter Thomas – whose three RBI in game one rallied the Eagles to a win – reached on Munden’s throwing error to lead off the inning. Spencer Duffie followed with a double to put runners at the corners, and Dalton Busby delivered a sac fly two batters later for the 4-1 lead. Still, Donato was in position to at least limit the damage before he threw the ball away on a routine comebacker that allowed Duffie to score unearned. That was essentially the end for Donato, who was pulled for Smith to start the fifth inning after scattering six hits with five runs – but just two earned – with two strikeouts and no walks on 66 pitches.
Smith worked quickly through the fifth inning before Georgia Southern exploded for five runs in the sixth on just four hits, with all but one hit charged to the righthander. Smith faced six batters, retiring just one, and allowed two walks, and a two RBI triple and an RBI double and single for the 10-2 deficit before being pulled. Cramer’s homer in the top half accounted for West Virginia’s other run, and the Mountaineers would never get closer than at 5-2 as the Eagles continued to pour on the offense, adding another five runs in the seventh against a trio of WVU pitchers. The biggest blast was Kent Rollins’ three-run homer to left off Seth Jordan, who allowed three runs, all earned, without recording an out against three batters faced.
The shot was followed by consecutive walks and a double for the 15-2 lead, which allowed Georgia Southern (5-2) to cruise through the last six outs to bookend the series with wins and send West Virginia to a season split of its first two, leaving it .500 overall. Connor Simmons (1-0) picked up the victory, throwing five strong innings of four-hit ball, with three strikeouts, three walks. Both Mountaineer runs were earned. Jason Richmond and Tripp Shepherd combined to shutout West Virginia over the final four frames.
The Mountaineers finished with eight hits, with no starter having more than one. Freshman outfielder Tony Strasiser went 2-for-2 in a substitute role. Six different players had RBI for Georgia Southern led by Rollins’ six.
West Virginia lost 12-0 at Texas in 2013 in Mazey’s first season for the worst shutout defeat, but the scoring difference was one greater this game. It was the worst loss in that sense since Villanova beat the Mountaineers 26-11 in Greg Van Zant’s last year. WVU plays a noon game versus Kent State on Fri., Feb. 27 in Conway, S.C. It is part of a doubleheader, with a 4 p.m. contest against homestanding Coastal Carolina. West Virginia will also play Ball State and Illinois on Feb. 28 and March 1, respectively.