Vance, Defense Lead WVU Over K-State 5-3

Ross Vance was backed by exceptional defense in pitching a complete game three-hitter as West Virginia split the series at Kansas State with a 5-3 win on Friday.

Vance, who allowed the leadoff hitter to reach in each of the final three innings, battled his way out of several late jams to win his second straight game after multiple rough outings. The junior allowed just two earned runs and one extra base hit in throwing 128 pitches, 71 for strikes in ensuring WVU has a chance to finally take a Big 12 road series entering the finale’. Vance (4-2) was hit hard just once, on Max Brown’s RBI double in the 8th inning to get KSU within two. But even that turned into an out when Taylor Munden relayed Shaun Wood’s throw from the right field to cut down Brown as the speedy centerfielder tried to stretch the hit into a triple.

“We always teach our outfielders that even if they can’t make the play, they have to get to the ball as fast as they can to prevent triples,” WVU head coach Randy Mazey said. “That was a big play.”

It was a microcosm of the game for the Mountaineers; West Virginia, which has struggled defensively at times, backed Vance with arguably its most impressive effort of the year. Besides making almost every routine play – the lone error was Vance’s on a throwing miscue – WVU got diving stops from KC Huth in center and Munden at short, the latter topped by a behind-the-back flip to second base for an out. Munden then took the cutoff throw from Shaun Wood and cut down Brown to keep the edge at 5-3.

“We played really good defense, made unbelievable plays in the infield,” Mazey said. “And we have good payers there, so that’s no accident. (Munden) was the only guy in my coaching career that I put a ‘C’ on the jersey for captain. He makes our team go. When he is playing well, we all are playing well. It was a great day for him.”

Munden’s effort turned into a huge play when the Wildcats brought the tying run to the plate twice in the 9th, only to be turned away by Vance, who got a whopping 16 ground ball outs to erase some control issues, including six walks, two hit by pitches and a wild pitch. It wasn’t as pretty as some of his complete games, like that against Ohio State in April of last year, but it gave the Mountaineers (17-11, 3-5) a one-game cushion on K-State (13-15, 2-6) to remain in eighth place without having played a true home game this season.

WVU pounded out 10 hits, getting contributions throughout the line-up as every position player reached base with eight recording hits. Kyle Davis led the balanced effort, going 2-for-4 with a double and two RBI in continuing to lead the team with a .353 average. Munden added a pair of hits from his leadoff spot, and scored twice. Shaun Wood went 1-for-4 with an RBI, his team-leading 23rd of the season.

Kansas State rarely threatened Vance, getting multiple runners on base just three times during the game, once with them at the corner with one out in the seventh inning. Vance escaped allowing just one run, getting a groundout and fly out to carry the 5-2 lead into the final two frames. Munden was huge in the 8th inning, making a snap throw to first for an out and relaying a throw from Wood to nail Brown as the centerfielder tried to stretch an RBI double into a triple. The pair of plays were huge in ensuring a two-run lead at 5-3 going to the ninth inning.

West Virginia scored the first three runs of the game on a trio of doubles over its first five hits. Fox jumpstarted the offense with a double to left on an 0-2 pitch, then scored on a Brad Johnson single for a 1-0 lead. Davis then sliced a shot off the left field wall, plating Johnson as the freshman strolled into second base for a 2-0 advantage. The Mountaineers would strand Davis, but get a leadoff double from Caleb Potter to open the second inning. Potter then advanced to third on Huth’s fly out before putting WVU ahead 3-0 off Cam O’Brien’s RBI single.

Kansas State cut into the edge in the bottom of the third after Vance allowed a leadoff walk and then committed a throwing error on a sac bunt. That left runners at the corners with no outs, and Vance was able to get out of it with just the lone run scoring off a pair of fielder’s choices and a caught stealing to take a 3-1 lead into the fourth inning. The ability to limit the threat was key, as Cramer’s walk and advance to second base off starter Brandon Courville’s wild pitch led to a 4-1 lead when Huth’s single hit off the glove of third baseman Carter Yagi. That chased Courville (0-2), who went just 3.1 innings, allowing four runs, all earned, on six hits with three strikeouts and a walk.

The Mountaineers got another in the fifth inning off an impressive individual display by Wood, who keeps producing and rising his average after a poor start. Wood, who is now hitting .227 after beginning the season below .100, singled to the pitcher and then stole the second and third bases before scoring on Davis’s single for the 5-1 lead. Brown has KSU’s lone extra base hit and also had an RBI. Second baseman Jake Wodtke went 1-for-3 with a run scored and a walk.

WVU now leads the all-time series 5-3 with the win, which sets up the possibility of taking a conference road series for the first time since winning two of three from Oklahoma in mid-April last year. The Mountaineers are just 10-22 in Big 12 road games all-time and have lost eight of the 10 away series to date, three by sweep. Mazey will throw right-hander Chad Donato, who comes off his first career complete game shutout in an 8-0 victory over Charleston Southern on Sunday. Donato (4-3, 1.50 ERA) allowed five hits with four strikeouts and no walks in the outing; the sophomore now has 27 strikeouts against just one walk this season.

“The reason we pitch Vance is that if you split the first two games, you always have a chance to win the series,” Mazey said. “We are looking forward to tomorrow.”

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