The Mountaineers held a lead late in both of the first two series games only to see No. 5 Texas Tech rally to win, the latest on a three-run homer in a gut-wrenching 7th inning in the 4-2 Raider victory.
West Virginia led 2-1 and was riding a wave of momentum entering the final three frames. Starter Chad Donato had cruised through six innings, retiring 13 in a row and striking out six of the last seven batters he faced. The offense then seemed to finally come alive, loading the bases on a trio of infield singles. But, like earlier in the game, the potential for a significant inning was erased on an unfortunate play.
In the 4th, that was a bases loaded lined shot back at Tech pitcher Steven Gingery which was turned into an inning-ending double play. In the 7th, it was a one-out double play ball hit by Kyle Davis that was thrown past first base by Tech second baseman Michael Davis. WVU appeared to score a pair of runs on the play for a 4-1 lead, but Braden Zarbnisky was called for interference after sliding out of the baseline while trying to break up the double play. What would have been a three-run lead remained a 2-1 game, and completely flipped momentum to the Red Raiders.
"I didn't see a replay, but we teach our guys to slide straight into the bag," head coach Randy Mazey said on the MSN by IMG postgame radio show. "If they don't do it, that's our problem."
It became a big one when Texas Tech took advantage, putting their first two hitters on and chasing Donato before Hunter Hargrove hit a deciding three-run homer off reliever Ross Vance. It was just Hargrove's second homer of the season, but it put Tech ahead 4-2 and was devastating for the Mountaineers, who again saw themselves miss opportunities while Tech capitalized on their own.
"We had opportunities," Mazey said. "We had the bases loaded several times. We didn't score when we had opportunities. We had our best players at the plate and just didn't come through."
WVU not only outhit Tech 8-5, but also managed to leave eight runners on while scoring just two runs on a pair of bases loaded, no-out situations. It spoiled an excellent outing by Donato (3-4) who took the loss despite allowing just three runs, two earned, while striking out 10 and issuing a lone walk. The 10 strikeouts give the junior 110 on the season and move him into the top six all-time on the single-season list at West Virginia.
"Chad gave us a chance to win like he always does," Mazey said.
But when that chance slipped away, it appears so did the Mountaineers' ability to make their first NCAA Tournament in 20 years via an at-large bid. At 32-21 overall, 11-11 in the Big 12, WVU will finish fourth in the league regardless of Saturday's result, and will have to win the conference's postseason tournament and receive the automatic bid to end the two-decade drought.
Texas Tech (40-13, 19-4) entered with an RPI of 10 and has already clinched the regular season title, its fifth in program history. Raiders' starter Steven Gingery also threw six full frames, allowing two runs on four hits with five strikeouts. Reliever Robert Duggar (4-0) picked up the win over his 1.2 innings, while closer Ryan Mosely got his fifth save of the season over the final four outs.
Hargrove had the big blow for Tech with his three-run shot in the 7th inning for the final margin. West Virginia scored both of its runs on hit batsmen with the bases loaded in the fourth inning. Jimmy Galusky had two hits for the Mountaineers, while Jackson Cramer and Ray Guerrini recorded the RBIs.
The series concludes Saturday. It s also the final game of the regular season for both teams. First pitch is at 3 p.m. eastern. WVU has not announced a starter. Tech is expected to pitch right-hander Ty Harpehau (1-0, 5.79 ERA).