Kevin Kinder \ BlueGoldNews.com

Kyle Gray Has 3 Hits, 4 RBI And Blake Smith Is Excellent In Relief As West Virginia Tops No. 5 Texas Tech

Kyle Gray had three hits and four RBI and Blake Smith was excellent in relief, pitching the final three innings as West Virginia outlasted No. 5 Texas Tech in an 8-7 marathon on Saturday.

Gray's RBI single to right field in the top of the 9th inning proved the game winner, and was the final blow in a back-and-forth contest that lasted nearly four hours. Smith finished his longest outing of the season by working a tense final frame in which the Red Raiders put runners at the corners with one out before the senior induced a pop out and fly out to center to seal the win.

"Keep grinding," head coach Randy Mazey said of the key to WVU's first win over a top five foe in his four-year tenure. "We knew it would be a grind and it was a grind. That was a big time Mountaineer victory."

The teams battled through three lead changes and a pair of ties with scoring coming in all but three innings. Gray was the catalyst for a Mountaineer line-up which banged out 11 hits in keeping within striking range of the Big 12's best offense in Texas Tech.  Gray started WVU's scoring with a two RBI double in the 4th inning, added an RBI single in the 5th, then put the Mountaineers ahead for good with his hit to right field that plated Cole Austin for the winning run. In between, Gray also scored a run himself on Ivan Vera's two-RBI triple, meaning the true freshman was directly responsible for five of West Virginia's eight runs. 

"He's going to be a great player, and he already is," Mazey said. "As he grows and matures he has a chance to be a really good player as he settles in."

Texas Tech had 13 hits, and were looking for the series sweep after 2-1 and 4-2 wins in the first two games. WVU missed multiple opportunities and never had the key hit in those, but managed plenty against the conference champions. They also got quality production from a bullpen which took over for starter Connor Dotson just 3.2 innings in. Dotson had given up five runs on nine hits, but the four relievers held Tech to just two more runs on four hits. The majority of work was done by Smith (4-1), who pitched the 7th, 8th and 9th for the win.

Hayden Howard (8-3) took the loss for the Raiders after giving up Gray's RBI single in the 9th inning. Texas Tech (40-14, 19-5) had won seven of its last eight league games and finished 20-7 at home this season.

The victory provides a major momentum boost for West Virginia going in to the Big 12 Tournament, where the Mountaineers (33-21, 12-11) are the four seed. Winners of 14 of their last 17, WVU will play fifth-seeded Oklahoma at 10 a.m. eastern on Wednesday. If both Tech and WVU win, the teams would meet again in the second round on Thursday at 5 p.m.

"It was a heck of a series," Mazey said on the MSN by IMG postgame radio show. "The way we fought today shows what kind of ball club we can be in the tournament. I'm excited about the team we have here, and the teams we will have in the future."

It appeared early as though West Virginia would follow the same pattern that had plagued it in the first two series games, namely the inability to get a key hit with runners in scoring position. The Mountaineers started the game with a double and single, setting up runners at the corners with no outs in the top of the 1st. But just like Friday's game, when WVU twice loaded the bases with no outs yet scored just two runs, a pop out and a double play erased the threat.

West Virginia then left three runners in scoring position over the next two innings, and one wondered if it simply wasn't to be against the Big 12's best team. But the Mountaineers finally capitalized with runners in scoring position, getting the bases loaded double from Gray and an RBI ground out from Kyle Davis. That made it 3-1 in the 4th inning, and WVU tacked on two more when Vera's shot to center got past Tanner Gardner and rolled to the wall. That brought home Gray and Darius Hill, and boosted the lead to 5-1.

That seemed a solid lead for mere moments, Texas Tech rallying with a lead off homer to get within 5-2, and tying the game four hitters later after an error, single, balk and two-run homer. The Raiders then loaded the bases with two outs, chasing Dotson after just 3.2 innings pitched. Jackson Sigman came on and got the final out, leaving Dotson with five runs allowed, four earned, with two strikeouts and two walks. 

The teams then jostled over the 5th and 6th innings, WVU taking a 6-5 lead on an RBI single by Gray. Tech answered with a two-out, two-run double by Hunter Hargrove for a 7-6 advantage to the Raiders going to the 7th inning. The Mountaineers again tied it in that inning when Ray Guerrini doubled and scored on a wild pitch for a 7-7 game heading to the 9th inning to set-up Gray's heroics.

"It's unbelievable after such disappointing losses," Mazey said. "You knew (Texas Tech) would hit today, and they did. They scored, we knew they were going to, and we had to answer. This was a character game to show the fight we have in us."

The game was Tech's fifth sellout of the season, with 4,368 in attendance.


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