Kevin Kinder \ BlueGoldNews.com

West Virginia Plays Big, Small Ball to Pound Pitt in Backyard Brawl

West Virginia got huge offensive production from the middle of the order, and scored on both big hits and small in its 10-4 win over Pitt on Tuesday night in the Backyard Brawl.

The Mountaineers avenged an April 12 home loss to the Panthers, but more importantly got their 10th consecutive win in their last-ditch effort to earn an NCAA at-large bid. After getting just five hits against Pitt in the first contest, the Mountaineers piled up 16 on their visit north. WVU got a pair of solo home runs from Kyle Davis and Ray Guerrini along with five other extra base hits, but also bedeviled the Panthers with five bunt hits, including two from Jimmy Galusky. 

The 4-5-6 spots in the WVU batting order were particularly productive, as Ivan Vera, Jackson Cramer and Guerrini combined for eight hits, six runs and four RBI.

After a scoreless first, West Virginia broke out on top in the second. Vera and Cramer teamed up to produce the first run with a triple and a double to start the inning. A walk and a single loaded the bases, and Kyle Gray pushed home the second run with a sacrifice fly. Galusky then dropped down one of his patented bunts for a hit, which scored Guerrini with the third run of the inning. With one out, WVU had the chance to add more, but K.C. Huth was thrown out at third on a steal attempt and Braden Zarbnisky grounded out to third to end the uprising.

One inning later, the top of the order got into the act, as Davis defied a strong inbound wind to rifle an 0-1 pitch over the left-center field wall to boost the Mountaineer lead to 4-0.

Through the first two innings, Zarbnisky allowed two baserunners in each, but came up with good pitches to end scoring threats. That ended in the bottom of the third, when two walks and a hit batter set up Pitt catcher Alex Kowalczyk, who delivered a three-run double down the left field line. Frank Maldonado followed with a single up the middle to score Kowalczyk and knot the game at four.

WVU bounced right back with the go-ahead run in the top of the fourth, and it was the smallest of small-ball forays that yielded the score. Buntmeister Jimmy Galusky laid down his second nubber of the game for a hit, then advanced to second when the too-late throw to first skittered into right field. After advancing to third on a wild pitch, Zarbnisky displayed his bat skills with a perfectly placed bunt of his own past the pitcher, which easily scored Galusky on the sacrifice.

"I think we had six bunts that really helped us win, head coach Randy Mazey said on IMG's post game radio show. "And then when we got guys on we got extra base hits. That's as good of a team win as we have had all year. I'm watching this game and thinking we are pretty good. I just hope it's not too little too late."

Mazey also juggled his pitchers in an unconventional fashion throughout.  Starter Zarbnisky also held down the leadoff spot in the batting order as the DH, and stayed in at that position after giving way following a three-inning stint. Saturday starter Ross Vance then came on in relief, portending his use as a reliever this weekend and during the Big 12 tournament. His 3.2 innings were marred only by four walks --otherwise he did not allow a Panther baserunner and preserved WVU's lead through the middle innings.

After B.J. Myers come on to get the final out of a bases loaded bottom of the seventh, Guerrini gave the Mountaineers a bit of breathing room with an eighth-inning leadoff solo blast to left that recalled his titanic shot of a year ago in the same ballpark. WVU's second leadoff homer of the game opened the lead to 6-4 .but that just set the stage for a game-busting ninth. The Mountaineers sent eight batters to the plate, and left Pitt fielders scrambling with three bunt singles and a sacrifice fly to score a pair of runs, followed by Kyle Gray's double that scored two more.

Blake Smith pitched the ninth, allowing a walk before getting the final three outs to end the game. That capped an excellent relief performance for the Mountaineers, who have struggled to hold foes down in the middle and late innings. In this one, WVU was excellent, as Pitt was held off the scoreboard after their four-run third. The Panthers did manage threats in the sixth and seventh, the latter of a bases-loaded variety, but Myers came on to clean up for Vance and set up an uneventful final two innings.

"About a month ago, after the loss to Canisius, I said this was about the lowest I've felt since Iv'e been here, and now a month later it's the best I've felt," Mazey said. "I really feel like we have a chance to make a run at this thing."

Vera and Galusky both had four-hit nights for the Mountaineers, with Cramer, Guerrini and Gray adding two each. Gray had three RBI, followed by Cramer and Guerrini with two each. Myers set down all four batters he faced in relief. WVU pitchers struck out 13 Panther hitters.

West Virginia (32-19)  finishes out the regular season with a Thursday-Friday-Saturday three-game set at Texas Tech, which has already wrapped up the Big 12 title with a 17-4 league record. The Mountaineers, with a current 11-9 league mark, could finish as high as second, but will face a very difficult challenge in the Red Raiders (38-13 overall) , who currently own an RPI ranking of 10. WVU is expected to go with Michael GroveChad Donato,  and Conner Dotson in the three-game set.

"We can't walk around like we're the number one team in the nation," Mazey said of the trip to Lubbock. "We are playing a team that is ahead of us, so that should alleviate that. We have to play positively as hard as we can."


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