Kansas Picks Off West Virginia

West Virginia’s ongoing offensive ineptitude, combined with a bases loaded balk from the wind-up by K.J. Myers, handed Kansas a 3-1 win on Friday in the first game of the series.

It was among the most disappointing defeats of the season as the Mountaineers managed just four hits, with 11 strikeouts, while the Jayhawks picked up their third true road win of the season in 12 games. Myers went a solid 6.1 innings, but was hurt by a pair of runs in the fifth inning. The first, off a triple and one-out sac fly to tie at 1-1, was earned. The second, once Myers seemed primed to get out of the frame without further trouble, became the latest in a series of what was causing WVU’s season to tumble away entering the final 15 games.

Myers gave up two walks around a bloop single down the right field line to load the bases. Part of it was bad execution and part of it was bad luck. But then, as they have done lately, the Mountaineers compounded the mistakes with a major miscue, in this case the balk that scored the eventual deciding run for a 2-1 KU lead.

It was an odd play in that Myers (2-3) went into the wind, then acted as though he wanted to stop his motion and instead stepped off the rubber awkwardly. Home plate umpire Mike Morris immediately signaled the balk call, and Kansas had its first lead of the game with a pair of runners still in scoring position. Myers then struck out Blair Beck to end the inning, with the damage already done.

“We had multiple signs there and I saw the sign of the pitch I really wanted to throw,” Myers said. “I saw the sign and (catcher Ray Guerrini) kept going and I realized he was about to put down another sign for me. I didn’t know what to do. I wasn’t about the throw up a slider without my catcher knowing, so I just took the balk.”

Which is exactly what he shouldn’t have done. West Virginia (23-15, 5-8 Big 12) was in no danger of mounting a comeback as Kansas starter Ben Krauth also went 6.1 innings, backed by a solid defense and the left-hander’s deceptive pick-off move to first that eliminated three WVU baserunners. Krauth (6-3) finished with no earned runs and just three hits. He had eight strikeouts.

“Their left-handed pitcher gave us the most trouble,” head coach Randy Mazey said. “He’s really good and mixes four pitches in all counts. He doesn’t get into a (predictable pattern) so our guys had real trouble getting good looks.”

No player had more than one hit, while the bottom four of the Mountaineer line-up went a combined 0-for-11. Leadoff hitter and team captain Taylor Munden was 0-for-4 with two strikeouts, meaning only the two through five hitters managed a hit. WVU, which leads the Big 12 in home runs with 39, has averaged just 2.4 runs in its last five games and risks falling into the Big 12’s basement if it doesn’t take the final two games of this series.

“It’s one of those things to try to avoid, but it happens,” Myers said. “I battled. I know I didn’t have my best stuff. I went out there and tried to work with what I had.”

Kansas pulled into a league tie with the Mountaineers with the win. The Jayhawks (18-24, 5-8) had seven hits, led by two each from leadoff hitter Joven Afenir and nine-hitter Tommy Mirabelli. It was Mirabelli’s triple that starter the KU comeback against Myers in the fifth, and his RBI single through the right side in the top off the ninth inning for a key insurance run and the 3-1 lead. WVU went quietly in the ninth inning, leaving Kyle Davis at second for their fifth stranded in the game. The Mountaineers were fortunate not be down more, as KU left runners on in four of the first five innings, including two runners twice.

“It appears that Friday evenings in the Big 12 will be low scoring,” Mazey said. “They did a good job. We did a good job on their big hitters in the middle of the line-up. It was their two little guys who hurt us.”

West Virginia’s best chance came in the sixth inning, when it loaded the bases on a trio of walks around two outs to set up Davis against KU reliever Sam Gilbert. Gilbert got ahead 0-2 and struck out Davis three pitches later. Stephen Villines worked the final two innings for Kansas to pick up his 11th save of the season. Krauth, who finished with eight strikeouts, also erased three baserunners on pickoffs, meaning 11 of the junior’s first 18 outs were essentially self-attained.

Myers worked into the seventh inning before giving way to Shane Ennis to face the top of the order. Myers finished the 6.1 innings pitched with the two runs, both earned, with five hits and five walks against seven strikeouts. He threw 121 pitches, 68 for strikes. Ennis allowed the final run, throwing 2.2 with two hits and the earned run.

West Virginia led 1-0 in the first inning after Jackson Cramer’s double into the left center gap scored Justin Fox from second. Fox reached on a fielding error and stole second to set-up Cramer’s 11th double of the season. The teams then went scoreless until the fifth inning, when Myers gave up the pair for the difference. The series game was the first in seven regular season tries in which the road team has won. KU now leads the all-time series record 5-4; the Jayhawks, who swept WVU in the regular season last year, had lost their last three road games by one run each.

The series continues Saturday, with first pitch at 11 a.m. The contest was originally slated for 4 p.m., following WVU’s 1 p.m. Gold-Blue spring football game, but expected inclement weather pushed up the start time. The Mountaineers will pitch normal Saturday starter and southpaw staff ace Ross Vance (6-3, 3.15 ERA); Kansas counters with senior right-hander Drew Morovick (3-3, 4.83 ERA).

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