The sophomore, making his sixth career start, continually pounded the zone in keeping Baylor off balance throughout the game. The right-hander struck out two and never walked a hitter while throwing 58 strikes in 94 pitches. Donato rarely got behind in counts, and continually forced the Bears to put the ball in play in upping his season strikeouts to 23 against just one walk for a sizzling 1.85 ERA.
“It’s not rocket science,” WVU head coach Randy Mazey said on the MSN by IMG postgame radio show. “He attacks the strike zone. He’s not afraid of anybody. He can keep you off balance with three pitches. If you want to learn how to pitch, come watch Chad Donato.”
Donato (3-3) was backed by a three-run homer from Ray Guerrini for a 4-0 lead in the top of the fourth inning. It was all the offense Donato would require in giving West Virginia’s pitching staff, taxed when Ross Vance was chased in the fourth inning in a loss Saturday, a needed break. Blake Smith struck out the side in the ninth to secure the win, just WVU’s (10-10, 2-4 Big 12) second in its first two conference road series of the season. Baylor (9-14, 2-4) has now lost 11 of 14 and falls into a tie with the Mountaineers for sixth in the league.
“What a big time, too, in the middle of a 1-0 game to put us up 4-0,” Mazey said of the home run. “That was nice to shake hands with three guys coming around third. That happens to be one of my favorite plays, the three-run homer.”
Guerrini, Donato’s battery mate, matched Kyle Davis with three RBI, all on the home run. It was the second homer in his career and the second in four games for Guerrini, who struggled at the plate until moving up in the box during the Texas series. The hit, which easily cleared the left field fence, scored Davis and Shaun Wood after they reached with two outs on a hit by pitch and single, respectively. That came after WVU led off the scoring on a Brad Johnson’s double after a pair of singles by Taylor Munden and Justin Fox. It was the first time the Mountaineers scored first in the three-game set.
Baylor answered with a run in the bottom of the fourth on a double, balk and sacrifice fly, by far the most difficult inning for Donato, who stranded four runners. West Virginia left eight one game after stranding 12, and were much better in the clutch here, adding another run in the sixth inning when Johnson singled, advanced to second on a fielder’s choice and reached third on a wild pitch before Davis’ RBI single to center.
That was the end for Baylor starter Drew Tolson, who went 5.1 innings, allowing six runs, five earned, with six strikeouts in falling to 0-5. Joe Kirkland came on in relief and got Guerrini and Munden to strikeout around KC Huth’s single to center to score Davis from second for the 6-1 lead. Baylor plated a run in the seventh inning on a double and single to get within 6-2. West Virginia added two more runs in the top of the ninth on Davis’ two-RBI single.
Johnson, Fox, Davis and Wood all recorded two hits, though Fox and Johnson struck out three times. The Mountaineers now have six players hitting .300 or better. Catcher Matt Menard was the lone Baylor player with two hits as Donato baffled the line-up, including limiting the top six in the order to two hits in 22 at bats, a .091 average.
Baylor won the first two games of the series, and now leads WVU 5-4 all-time. West Virginia will play midweek games at Stephen F. Austin and UT-Arlington on Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively, taking advantage of the University’s spring break. First pitch is 7:30 p.m. eastern for both games. Mazey has not announced starters.
“We are now going to go eat a big fat steak and watch West Virginia win the basketball game,” Mazey said of WVU’s 8:40 p.m. tipoff tonight against Maryland in the third round of the NCAA Tournament.