The four-hour contest, highlighted more by the pregame festivities than the on-field play, stalemated into a pitching standoff after the teams combined for 10 runs in the first eight innings, only to have a struggling Fox rip a fastball into the left center gap to score Caleb Potter and end a marathon opening game for the new park in front of a sold out school-record 3,110 in attendance. Fox had just one hit in his first six at-bats, and committed two errors at third in the epitome of the opening game pressures felt throughout the team.
But when Potter walked and KC Huth singled up the middle to move the runner into scoring position, Fox was primed to provide the fitting ending in a game played in front of a series of dignitaries that included Earl A. Anderson, the 95-year-old Morgantown native who was just the 21st four-star general in Marine Corps history. Anderson threw out the first pitch shortly before the 6:22 p.m. start, with Butler reliever Kyle Allen firing the last at 10:22 – exactly four hours in a game that will be recalled for all the surrounding pomp and circumstance of speeches, recognition and, in the end, celebratory fireworks that exploded behind center field and were visible from WVU’s Evansdale campus to surrounding hillsides as far away as seven miles.
Fox’s hit was as surprising as the Mountaineer struggles at the plate. West Virginia struck out a season-high 17 times, including 11 by Taylor Munden, Fox and Shaun Wood at the top of the order. The three combined to record just three hits in 20 at-bats, as WVU managed 14 to Butler’s 10. No player outside KC Huth had more than two hits, and five players struck out at least twice, led by four each from Munden and Fox. Huth went 4-for-6 with two RBI, and set the dish for Fox’s end-game heroics to cap a game that matched the longest over the last six seasons for West Virginia (19-12).
And while Fox put the finishing touches on the work, the master strokes were painted on the corners via fastballs from B.J. Myers. The freshman sparkled in relief of starter Connor Dotson, retiring 20 of the final 25 batters faced, with just one hit leaving the infield. He was hurt by three fielding errors, the latter of which came on a Fox throwing error that put runners at the corners with two outs in the 11th inning. That ushered in closer Blake Smith (4-1), who got a line-out to second to end the threat and would eventually pick up the win. Myers finished with 7.2 innings pitched, allowing just four hits and two runs – both of which were unearned. He tallied seven strikeouts against just one walk in 113 pitches, 78 for strikes in the right-handers finest collegiate performance.
Myers retired as many as eight Bulldogs in a row, and would have had nine save for the dropped pop up by Fox that ultimately led to Butler taking a 5-4 lead when Brad Johnson misplayed a ball in left field for the second straight game to allow a key run. Johnson slipped on the turf, allowing Ryan Wojciechowsk’s flyout to become a run-scoring RBI double for the 5-4 lead. The run wasn’t charged to Myers, who would retire 15 of the final 18 batters he faced in getting WVU to extra innings after Potter’s single scored Ray Guerrini to tie the game at 5-5 in the bottom of the eighth inning.
That score capped an entertaining initial nine innings at the park, as the teams jostled back and forth. Jackson Cramer’s 410-foot shot over the centerfield wall got West Virginia within 4-3 in the fourth inning for the first homer in the ballpark and Cramer’s fourth of the season. Myers then retired eight straight Bulldogs – including the side in order in the fifth and sixth innings – before the Mountaineers tied the game at 4-4 on Huth’s two-out single to left to score Potter. Potter singled and stole second in a classic example of head coach Randy Mazey’s aggressiveness paying off with a run manufactured with two outs. That ended a solid start for Butler’s Jeff Schank, who went 5.2 innings, allowing the four runs, all earned, on eight hits with six strikeouts and three walks.
WVU’s Connor Dotson didn’t fare as well, getting chased after the first three Butler hitters reach to start the fourth inning as the Bulldogs scored four in the inning to turn an early 2-0 deficit into a 4-2 lead for the visitor’s. Dotson, pulled after three full, gave up five hits with a walk and strikeout in a labored performance. Myers, the former Friday starter turned long reliever, entered and got a sac bunt before Will Amador doubled to score the runners for a 3-2 lead. One of the runs was charged to Dotson, whose ERA moved to 4.05. Butler added another run on a single to center – the fourth hit of the inning – to take the 4-2 lead before Myers began his mastery of the line-up.
Dotson battled throughout his stint, giving up a single and double in the second inning to put two runners in scoring position before inducing a pop out to shallow right and a strike out to end the frame. WVU scored the first run in park history in the bottom half when KC Huth roped a two-out single to left to score Kyle Davis from second. Davis, who reached on an infield single and moved up 90 feet on a throwing error, put the Mountaineers ahead 2-0 with a double in the left center gap to plate Brad Johnson. Johnson set up the run by singling and stealing second, unexpectedly the first steal in ballpark history as the leftfielder had just four on the season entering.
Butler’s Allen (1-3) was saddled with the loss. Three Bulldogs had two hits each, with Amador tallying two RBI. The line-up struck out 13 times, four shy of West Virginia, and would barely get over the .200 average for the game in a combined 10-for-49 effort while stranding nine. WVU left 10 while stealing four bases in evening its extra-innings record to 2-2 this season. Butler (13-19) has now lost five of six while WVU has won 10 of 12.
Game two is Saturday at 4 p.m. WVU starts ace Ross Vance (4-2, 3.21 ERA) while Butler counters with fellow lefty Peter Nyznyk (1-1, 5.13 ERA).