After WVU tied it at 1-1 in the bottom of the eighth inning, the Illini scored an unearned run on an infield single, a hit-by-pitch, a passed ball and a groundout for the win, meaning the Mountaineers gave up a run without Illinois ever advancing a runner on a ball out of the infield. It was a microcosm of the trip for West Virginia, which lost three of four games, including one on a walk-off home run in the 13th inning, and had a scoreless stretch reach 16 innings in an anemic offensive display.
That was the case again versus Illinois, which carried a shutout into the seventh inning before the Mountaineers broke through to tie the game at 1-1 on a Justin Fox single after Taylor Munden doubled. The two hits were the only consecutive ones in the contest for WVU, which 1-for-17 with runners on, and 1-for-11 with them in scoring position. The insipid offense ruined another exceptional pitching start, this time by Chad Donato (1-2), who worked into the ninth inning, allowing two runs – but none earned thanks to three errors – on four hits. The right-hander struck out five, didn’t issue a walk and found the zone on a solid 71 of 102 pitches in lowering his ERA to a sizzling 1.50.
It was almost a crime that the sophomore took the loss, as the lone other Illinois run came in the first inning on a single, steal and throwing error to advance a runner to third before Reid Roper’s RBI groundout. The run in the ninth inning came during Jordan Sergent’s relief effort following leadoff hitter Adam Walton’s infield single to begin the inning. Sergent got a fly out before hitting Roper. The two then advanced to second and third, respectively, on a passed ball on catcher Cam O’Brien, who entered in the eighth inning for starter Ray Guerrini as head coach Randy Mazey searched for offense.
Leftfielder Ryan Nagle’s routine groundout, which might have become a double play ball before the passed ball, then scored Walton for the 2-1 lead. WVU escaped the inning without further damaged, and looked to tie after second baseman Shaun Corso doubled to left center with one out. Corso reached third on a fly out to centerfield, but was stranded when O’Brien grounded out to end the game. Andrew Mamlic (1-0) got the win, and Roper his first save of the season, but the prime pitching performance was turned in by starter John Kravetz, who baffled the Mountaineer bats for seven innings. The 6-4, 220-pounder used a mix of pitches and power in a scoreless outing with nine strikeouts against just one walk.
West Virginia (4-6) was rarely ahead in the count, as Kravetz threw 71 strikes in 103 pitches. The shutout seven innings lowered his ERA to 1.77 and largely enabled Illinois (8-2-1) to snap a two-game skid. The Illini have allowed more than three runs in a game just twice. Munden stayed hot after a two-RBI, 3-for-4 performance in the 7-6 win over Ball State on Saturday, going 2-for-4 with a pair of doubles. He scored the only run and raised his average to .405. Munden is one of just three Mountaineer starters hitting .300 or better. Corso went 3-for-4 with a double and stolen base.
The Mountaineers next play a three-game set at East Tennessee State from March 6-8. The opener is at 4:05 p.m. It is the penultimate road series, Texas being the other, before West Virginia opens Mon County Ballpark on March 17 versus Waynesburg.