Vance was brilliant for the second consecutive start since dialing back his midweek throwing routine, scattering four hits while allowing no runs with three strikeouts and a lone walk. The Bulldogs moved only one runner past second against him, that in the fifth inning when they loaded the bases after two outs on two singles before an error by second baseman Kyle Davis that would have ended the inning. No matter for Vance, who bore down to get a ground ball to third that ended the threat and set up his final three frames in which Butler managed just one hit and had the minimum number of nine come to the plate.
It was an empowering performance for a less than overpowering pitcher who relies heavily on movement and finesse over velocity. Vance (5-2) threw 64 strikes on 103 pitches, an average of less than 13 pitches an inning before being pulled after the eighth inning for the second straight game. Reliever Jeff Hardy pitched the ninth, getting two outs quickly before allowing a pair of baserunners prior to Gherig Parker’s fly out to left to end the game.
“I actually felt like I didn’t have fantastic stuff today,” Vance said. “I was able to change speed and make some pitches when I needed to make them. It was good enough to be pretty good today. Every part of me (wanted to finish), but I always want to go finish. I trust the coaches to take care of my arm, and Hardy needed some work.”
The crafty southpaw got all the help needed in the fourth inning, when Kyle Davis had a solo homer before singles by Jackson Cramer and Shaun Corso set up Huth’s RBI single for a 2-0 lead. Huth, a junior transfer from Fullerton College, was the lone Mountaineer who didn’t struggle badly in the park’s inaugural game, going 4-for-6 with 2 RBI. The centerfielder went 2-for-4 this game with the RBI, bringing his season total to 14. Huth was picked off of first during the ensuing at bat, but managed to stay in the rundown long enough for Corso to score from third for the 3-0 edge.
Cramer pushed the lead to 5-0 with his two-run homer down the power alley in right for a 5-0 lead. It was Cramer’s fifth homer of the season and second in as many games in the new park, his Friday round tripper landing in the trees beyond center that serve as a batter’s eye. This one wasn’t as long, but arched high enough to clear the fence and score Davis after he doubled.
“It’s a hitter’s park,” Davis said of the offensive outburst. “Obviously the wind is going to be a factor, but I think the fact that we are just here every day, it’s our park.”
Among the biggest of freshman surprises, Davis then tacked on two more runs in the bottom of the seventh inning with another double to plate Justin Fox and Cameron O’Brien to blow the game open at 7-0. Two pitches later, Cramer lashed a double into left center, Davis scoring easily from second for an 8-0 edge that signaled the start of a series of pinch runners and hitters as head coach Randy Mazey tried to get as many players into the contest as possible. Cramer, subbed out for pinch runner and replacement Tucker Cascadden, finished 3-for-4 with a game-high three RBI off the double and home run. He also scored twice in his best statistical offensive game of the year.
“It was nice to go out and do what we do best, hit balls hard and play defense,” Cramer said. “We have been waiting a long time for the field and we were all really excited. There was a lot going on (Friday). We were a lot more relaxed today. My first at-bats both games were pretty bad, but I found a way to settle in and made an adjustment and got a good pitch to hit.”
The win was West Virginia’s 20th of the season against just 12 losses, the earliest in both games played and the date that the program has reached the milestone in its three years under Mazey. In his initial season, it took WVU 37 games, when it won its 20th against Liberty to reach a record of 20-17; last season West Virginia reached 20 victories on April 22 versus Maryland to go 20-16. In Greg Van Zant’s last season, the Mountaineers did not reach 20 wins until May 15th, when WVU was buried 11 games under .500 at 20-31.
No Butler player had more than one hit, as the Bulldogs had just six overall. Starter Peter Nyznyk (1-2) pitched six innings in the loss, allowing five runs, all earned, on eight hits. Taylor Munden again struggled from the leadoff spot for the Mountaineers, going 0-for-5 one game after a 1-for-7 performance left him with just one hit in his last 12 at bats. He did hit a solid shot to second in the ninth inning, with Austin Miller taking away a hit with a diving stop. West Virginia had four key hits in 10 at bats with runners in scoring position during the game, and got the lead runner on in four of eight innings.
“It’s a lot easier hitting in the daytime than it is at night,” Mazey said. “I think eventually we will get this place figured out pretty well. Cramer is maturing as a hitter. He went up there his last couple times and sat on a certain pitch and he got them. The first time he sat on a fastball and homered and the last time he sat on a change-up and doubled.”
The Mountaineers took the series with the win, the fifth over its first eight series this season. West Virginia can complete the sweep on Sunday, which would be its third of the year. Butler (13-20) has now lost six of seven and will try to salvage a game at 1 p.m. with WVU’s Chad Donato (4-3, 1.63 ERA) facing Butler’s Nick Morton (2-3, 6.75 ERA). The Mountaineers will go for their 12th win in 14 games.