Chad Donato allowed just two runs over seven innings and Ivan Vera had a two RBIs and was outstanding in the field as West Virginia beat Texas 11-2 on Friday to take the first game of the series.
Donato came off a two-hit complete game shutout against Baylor last Friday which earned him National Pitcher of the Week honors, and kept largely the same groove against Texas in mixing his trademark fastball with excellent control of the curve. The right-hander baffled the Longhorn line-up through six innings, allowing only a single run, then managed to escape a bases loaded, no-out jam in the 7th while giving up just one run to hand a 5-2 lead to a bullpen which needed just six outs.
"He didn't have his best stuff, but that was his grittiest performance," said head coach Randy Mazey, who notched career win number 300. "He didn't locate the fastball, but he had his curve."
Donato was backed by an offense that exploded for 15 hits, including multi-hit performances by five different players. Vera, meanwhile, played the best game of his young collegiate career, going 2-for-4 with two RBI, two runs scored and a key double that finished off a four-run 4th inning for the Mountaineers. Vera was also excellent at third base, making a pair of exceptional diving catches - one of which took away a surefire run-scoring double - and making another diving stop on a grounder that limited the hitter to a single.
"Phenomenal," Mazey said. "I'm not blessed with the best vocabulary, but let's go with phenomenal. He's so much fun to be around. Unbelievable kid, unbelievable person. The guys on the team love him. The guys on the team root for him and he's hitting .450."
Well, almost. Texas? It could never find the clutch hit against Donato (3-3), who threw 122 pitches over the seven innings. The ace struck out six and walked two while allowing just one extra base hit, that a solo homer in the 2nd inning.
He was most tested in the 7th inning, when Texas loaded the bases and scored on a sac fly to pull within 5-2 with two runners in scoring position. But Donato bore down to strike out the top of the order in Travis Jones and Kody Clemens, both on unexpected curve balls that had froze Jones and had Clemens swinging at air.
When West Virginia plated three runs in the bottom half for an 8-2 lead - two on a bases-clearing triple by Jackson Cramer - that was it for Donato, who watched Jackson Sigman retire the side in order the 8th and 9th as the Mountaineers won their third in a row and for the sixth time in seven games.
The victory moved WVU (25-19, 9-9 Big 12) into sole possession of fourth place, jumping Texas (21-25, 9-10) by a half game. It was the fourth loss in five games for the struggling Longhorns, who managed just five hits all game. UT starter Morgan Cooper (2-4) was chased after just five innings, having given up the four runs in the 3rd inning, all earned. The Texas bullpen wasn't any better, the next two pitchers allowing four runs over just two innings as West Virginia sealed the game just after Donato exited.
The Longhorns did take a 1-0 lead in the 2nd inning on Zane Gurwitz's solo shot over the right center wall before West Virginia answered with the four runs on four hits in the 3rd. The frame started innocently enough when KC Huth beat out an infield single and Kyle Gray did the same on a sacrafice bunt attempt. That set-up a two on, no out situation and head coach Randy Mazey called for the hit and run with Jimmy Galusky at the plate. The nine-hitter sent a ball directly over the second baseman, scoring Huth and putting two runners in scoring position for the top of the order.
Braden Zarbnisky's sac fly then made it 2-1 before Kyle Davis and Darius Hill reached on fielder's choices, the latter scoring Galusky. Vera finished the outburst with a double down the third base line to bring Hill all the way around from first base for the 4-1 lead. Every Mountaineer that came to the plate tallied at least one hit, with Vera, Gray, Cramer and Galusky recording two-hit games. Pinch hitter Shaun Wood had a two-run homer in the 8th inning, his second of the year.
The Mountaineers added on in the 6th inning with a suicide squeeze. With one out and two runners in scoring position, Huth put down a bunt toward the first base line on an 0-1 count. Vera easily scored from third for the 5-1 lead, and from there Donato loaded the bases with no outs, then escaped via the pair of strikeouts.
That segued into three more WVU runs in the bottom of the 7th on Vera's single and Cramer's two-RBI triple. The Mountaineers scored three more runs in the bottom of the 8th for the final margin.
Notes (Full WVU stat box following appears below notes):
*The last time Texas came to West Virginia for a baseball series, the Longhorns dropped two of three games, including the last-ever contest at old Hawley Field. The Mountaineers battered Texas 12-6, sending the home crowd into a frenzy and giving WVU its second consecutive series win over the baseball blue bloods.
*Game Two of the series is set for Saturday at 2:00 p.m. Eastern at Mon County Ballpark. Senior left-hander Ross Vance (5-3, 4.75 ERA is set to take the hill for WVU against fellow senior lefty Ty Culbreath 8-3, 2.99). Texas head coach Augie Garrido will not be in attendance, as he is set to receive the 2016 Ellis Island Medal of Honor for those who "embody the spirit of America in their celebration of patriotism, tolerance, brotherhood and diversity." Assistant coach Skip Johnson will pilot the team while Garrido is away. Garrido has 1,971 wins in his career, which has put him in both the College Baseball and American Baseball Coaches Association Halls of Fame.