Ennis struggled from the start, allowing the first batter to reach in three of his five innings pitched as the Nittany Lions scored the first five runs of the game, then held on to upset the Mountaineers for the second year in a row. Penn State used a small ball approach, executing the sac bunt to perfection in setting up runs while also getting the clutch plays in the field it needed, including three rally-killing double plays to send WVU to its first loss in new Mon County Ballpark.
Ennis, who went 4.1 innings, was relieved by typical Friday starter Connor Dotson, who kept WVU (21-13) close over the next 3.2 innings by facing the minimum number of hitters at 11. Dotson allowed no hits and a lone walk against three strikeouts in mastering the Lions (11-20), who had lost six of eight entering. It was too little, too late for a WVU offense that scored their fewest runs in a nonconference game since a March 1 defeat versus Illinois; West Virginia entered 44th in RPI compared to PSU’s 163, according to WarrenNolan.com
“We said that’s the definition of a trap game,” head coach Randy Mazey said. “You come of an emotional weekend and play a team with a bad record who is capable of beating you. Every game in college baseball means so much. And to show up with the lack of energy that we did today, there is no excuse. We said once the dog and pony show was over, we would have to start playing baseball.”
Both teams finished with eight hits, but Penn State out-hit WVU with runners on and runners in scoring position as well as getting the leadoff runner on in five of the nine innings. The Lions, who came in with a paltry .955 fielding percentage, were perfect on defense while the Mountaineers committed a throwing error that cost a run. The only West Virginia player with more than a single hit was Kyle Davis, who went 3-for-4 with a double and RBI. The top three in the order – Justin Fox, Taylor Munden and Jackson Cramer – went a combined 1-for-13.
WVU trailed 5-1 going to the sixth inning after Penn State turned every leadoff hitter reached into a run, and tacked on two more for the big lead. The Mountaineers trimmed the edge to 5-2 on a Garrett Hope triple and a single by Davis before threatening for more when Shaun Woods was hit by a pitch to put two runners on with just one out. But submarine-style reliever Jack Anderson, who threw the final 3.2 innings for his second save of the season, got Caleb Potter to hit into a 4-3 double play to end the inning and maintain the 5-2 lead for the Lions.
The Mountaineers got within 5-3 in the seventh when KC Huth and Cam O’Brien opened the inning with a walk and single, respectively, before Fox’s fielder’s choice left runners at the corners for Munden. The shortstop had an RBI ground out to second on what would have been a double play ball if Mazey hadn’t sent Fox on the full count pitch. That got the Mountaineers within 5-3 as Cramer stranded Fox with a groundout to first base. WVU had a chance in the bottom of the eighth with two on and one out, but Potter hit into his second rally-killing double play of the game.
“I got a bad look on it and hit it up the middle,” Potter said. “The submarine pitchers are hard to hit at first. It’s disappointing. We had eight hits, but we left seven runners on base. It’s a disappointing night but hopefully we can change the mindset for Oklahoma. In the end, (Anderson) got us.”
Ennis got in trouble immediately, allowing two base hits in the first three batters to set-up runners at the corners with one out. A surprise safety squeeze play with clean-up hitter Jim Haley at the plate put the Lions ahead 1-0 before a double steal and O’Brien’s throwing error to third allowed a second run. Ennis got a strikeout and fly out to end the inning, stranding a runner on third. The Nittany Lions got another run in the second, going ahead 3-0 on a leadoff double and a two-out single.
Penn State would then continue to pepper the right-hander, putting the lead runners on in three of the first five innings, including the fifth when Ennis allowed a single, then was hurt by a sac bunt that appeared to be rolling foul down the first base line. But the ball stayed fair, resting right on the line, and the Lions had two on with no outs. A second straight sac bunt followed, putting a pair in scoring position for designated hitter Greg Guers, whose single to center pushed the Penn State lead to 4-0.
That was the end for Ennis, who threw 4.1 innings, allowing five runs, four earned, on eight hits with three strikeouts and no walks. Typical Friday starter Connor Dotson entered, and was able to get a quick foul out with runners at the corners before Penn State executed an intentional rundown between first and second. The slow steal allowed the runner from third to score for a 5-0 lead. WVU got out of the inning on the play when O’Brien, after a late throw from Munden on the play at the plate, threw back to second for the out. Still, the damage was done and the Nittany Lions carried a 5-1 lead into the final four frames following Caleb Potter’s homer in the bottom of the fifth inning. It was his third of the year.
“I feel like we didn’t move baserunners,” Potter said of a WVU team that had won 12 of 14 entering and led the Big 12 in batting average. “When you have eight hits but can’t move them, there’s really no point in the hits.”
West Virginia plays a three-game home series against Oklahoma starting Friday at 6 p.m. BJ Myers is expected to start, with Ross Vance throwing Saturday and Chad Donato on the mound for the Sunday finale. It will be the initial Big 12 series at Mon County Ballpark. Fireworks will follow Friday’s game.