Alexander was brilliant, mixing a trio of pitches for strikes and controlling an increasingly sluggish Mountaineer offense that was set down in order in four different innings. WVU didn’t move a runner into scoring position between the fifth and ninth innings in failing to remotely threaten the Big 12’s best pitching staff, and has now lost five of their last seven league games in a free fall heading down the stretch.
“He kept us guessing,” WVU second baseman Shaun Corso said. “He kept be off balance. It’s been the case recently where we have found ourselves down early. You don’t get many mistakes, so you have to take advantage of those when you get them.”
West Virginia scored a lone run in the third inning off Taylor Munden’s home run, the only hint of offense until Alexander (4-2) began to tire in the ninth and was pulled after he pounded the zone with 80 strikes on 111 pitches. The domination was so compete that WVU managed just five hits through eight innings before scoring three meaningless runs in the last frame in making Alexander’s line of four earned runs look far worse than it really was. The southpaw had nine strikeouts against a lone walk. B.J. Myers drew the start for the Mountaineers, and was adequate over 5.2 innings pitched, giving up four runs on seven hits.
But even the four runs were far too many for the Mountaineers (24-20, 6-9 Big 12) to overcome against a staff with three of the best ERA in the conference. West Virginia had 10 hits, but was set down in order in the 4th, 6th, 7th and 8th as Alexander retired 11 in a row and 20 of 22 at one point, while WVU failed to score more than four runs for the eighth time in the last 11 games, a 3-8 span. TCU, meanwhile, put up the five spot in the eighth inning to put the contest away, the big blow coming via clean-up hitter Evan Skoug’s three-run shot to right, his team-best fourth of the season, for the 9-1 lead that sent most of the 2,541 in attendance home.
The biggest issue for West Virginia defensively was a series of early bewildering plays that left it with yet another early hole, this time at 3-0 before recording six outs. TCU (35-9, 11-5) grabbed the lead in the top of the second inning on four hits and multiple Mountaineer mental and physical miscues. WVU had a wild pitch that allowed a run, an off-the-mark throw to second on a pitch out to give away a base and a major hesitation by Brad Johnson in left field that allowed a TCU hitter to turn a routine single into a runner on second base. The trio of errors – and they were exactly that despite not registering as such in the official scoring – only aided an aggressive, intelligent Horned Frog offense that left the bases loaded to mercifully end the inning.
“Got to see one of the best teams in the nation tonight,” head coach Randy Mazey said. “Their left-handed pitching was great. In the first two or three innings we just made too many mistakes, and against a team like that you can’t do that.”
WVU answered with Munden’s Big 12-leading 11th homer of the season in the bottom half, a solo shot to right that got over the wall on a line. That pulled the Mountaineers within 3-1 before Derek Odell answered a similar smash for a 4-1 TCU lead. It was Odell’s first home run of the season. Myers (2-4) settled after that, finishing with five strikeouts, three walks and the costly wild pitch. TCU then ripped reliever Jeff Hardy for four runs, all earned, in the eighth before tagging Seth Jordan with one as well.
Jackson Cramer and Corso had multi-hit games for West Virginia, which was passed by Kansas State for seventh place in the nine-team Big 12. The Mountaineers, losers of five of six, are now just two games ahead of last-place Baylor – which owns the head-to-head tiebreak – in trying to make the league’s postseason tournament. TCU advanced to 4-3 in conference road games and of now takes over first place in the league as Oklahoma State faces Oklahoma in a Bedlam rivalry game tonight.
The series continues Saturday at 4 p.m. West Virginia will throw Ross Vance (6-3, 2.89 ERA); TCU counters with senior right-hander Preston Morrison (9-1, 2.00 ERA), who ranks in the top five in the Big 12 in ERA. The Horned Frogs lead the conference in team ERA at 2.23. Morrison leads the league in wins.
“This is going to be an interesting game,” Mazey said. “It’s two ground ball pitchers, one righty, one lefty. You have to be ready to show up and play defense tomorrow, and whatever chances you get you have to make the most of them because you might not get many.”