Munden, just 2-for-27 over the opening seven games at Mon County Ballpark, snapped that skid with a home run to left center in the third inning, then singled and eventually scored the game-winner in the eighth inning as the Mountaineers overcame lack of effort and shaky focus for the second straight midweek contest in avoiding a repeat of last Tuesday’s home loss to Penn State.
Munden, who finished 2-for-4 with two runs scored and an RBI, singled for WVU’s first hit in five innings to open the 8th, then stole second after MU catcher Matt Reed mishandled a great ball to throw on. The team captain advanced to third on a groundout before Marshall reliever Kolin Stanley (2-1) walked Ray Guerrini and Brad Johnson, the first to set-up a double play and the second on a full count. Marshall then brought in Matt Margaritanda, who struck out Caleb Potter before issuing the full count, bases loaded walk to Huth that proved the game winner.
The game, as it often is between these schools regardless off sport, played out in a series of odd twists and a somewhat lackadaisical effort from West Virginia. The Mountaineers held Marshall to a season-low two hits, but showed a clear lack of remaining mentally in the game, and the physical results followed. WVU went hitless itself from the third to the eighth inning, and scored just two runs in five-plus innings off MU starter Josh King, who carried a 10.12 ERA into the match-up. Assistant coach Steven Trout had to call a quick meeting in the dugout before the bottom of the eighth, playing both instructor and motivator to the sluggish group.
“It seems like some days we are unmotivated, and I am looking for that answer,” head coach Randy Mazey said. “This is two midweek games in a row where I feel like we were a bit unmotivated. If you are going to be a good player and a good team you have to be a self-motivator. You have to motivate yourself no matter who you play. I think our guys looked at the stat sheet and saw their starting pitcher had over a 10 ERA and they thought it was going to be easy. That’s what happens when you think it’s easy. That happens almost every single time. This team has to learn to show up every single day.”
It didn’t early, as Marshall went ahead 1-0 against Shane Ennis on a walk, error, passed ball and single for the first of the Herd’s two unearned runs. The RBI went to Aaron Bossi, who singled home leadoff batter Corey Bird from third. MU also tried to plate DJ Gee from second, but Gee was thrown out from center on a perfect strike from Huth to catcher Garrett Hope. Hope applied a stout tag to Gee, whose right leg was injured on the play. He was replaced in left by Robert Fajardo.
Ennis settled after, retiring the next seven hitters in order, including striking out the side in the third. Munden then tied the game with a solo shot to left in the bottom half, snapping a 1-for-28 start in the home stand. Kyle Davis followed three pitches later with a similar blast to left, the back-to-back homers giving the Mountaineers the 2-1 lead after three innings. That would be the last hit for the Mountaineers (23-15) until the eighth inning, however, as the team left three of their eight runners during the span.
Mazey replaced Ennis after three innings, following typical midweek protocol. WVU’s starters had lasted 4, 4, 3, 2, 3.1 and 4.1 innings in the midweek games entering, resulting in a 4-2 record. Ennis was at 51 pitches, 32 strikes and had allowed the one unearned run on a single hit. Adam Keller entered and, like Ennis, gave up a run in his initial inning as Marshall tied the game at 2-2 on another eerily similar series of plays, this a second fielding error on third baseman Justin Fox, another passed ball, a balk and ground out. The error was Fox’s ninth of his senior season – six more than he had in his first three years combined.
“We have to work on being more intense in these midweek games,” Munden said. “I can’t sit there and do the actions for you. All I can do is talk to them. I’m going to do what I can as a leader and lead by example. I thought coming off last week we would pick it up a little more. If they don’t want to come out for the game I can only push them to do it.”
Marshall’s King worked 5.1, departing after consecutive walks put two on with one out in the bottom of the sixth. WVU had a chance with runners on the corners and two outs in the frame, but the slower Johnson was thrown out trying to steal second, though Mazey insisted there was no miscommunication on the play. King finished with two earned runs on three hits with five strikeouts and two walks. After Keller (1-1) worked through the sixth to pick up the win for West Virginia, the Mountaineers closed with Jeff Hardy and Blake Smith, neither of whom gave up a hit. The save was Smith’s fourth of the year.
Marshall (13-26) falls to 13 games below .500. The Herd managed just the pair of singles while stranding three runners. MU struck out 14 times. Huth had the third hit for the Mountaineers, finishing 1-for-3 with a double and the RBI off the bases loaded walk in the eighth inning. He also caught the final out of the game on a charging play from deep center that ended with him sliding under the fly out from Bossi.
WVU continues its 11-game home stand to open Mon County Ballpark with a three-game weekend series against Kansas. The Jayhawks (16-24, 4-8 Big 12) are last in the conference. West Virginia, at 5-7 and sixth in the league, likely needs a series sweep to be in contention for a top half finish in the nine-team Big 12. Friday’s game time is 6 p.m. Saturday’s start, following the 1 p.m. Gold-Blue spring game, is set for 4 pm. Sunday’s finale is at 1 p.m. Starters have not yet been announced.
“They are all so big,” Mazey said. “They are (a few games) behind us right now, and this could be a separator. I fully expect our guys to come out with a lot of energy on Friday. It’s a Big 12 weekend.”