For the second consecutive day, West Virginia lost its starting pitcher in the early going. Chad Donato , who appeared to be in command against the first five batters he faced, forced three pop-ups from the top of the Texas Tech order. On the last, he was forced to make the play himself, and immediately after began stretching his forearm. A post-game comment from teammate Kyle Davis seemed to indicate that he initially hurt the arm in the first innig, but after catching the pop-up in the second he was examined by the Mountaineer training staff, and removed from the contest for reliever B.J. Myers. That was an eerie echo from Wednesday's game, in which another former starter, Ross Vance, came on in relief of a power starting pitcher.
Myers didn't approach the effectiveness level of Vance, but he did steady a team that could have been reeling after seeing their starter depart early for the second consecutive day. in 4.2 innings, he allowed just two hits, and it was only the four walks he issued that allowed Tech to ding him for a pair of earned runs.
"Watching Vance yesterday, I just picked up on what he did.," Myers said of his approach when he got the early call. "After listening to him talk about it yesterday, he came over and told me that I could do it."
Texas Tech pitcher Davis Martin, who cruised through the first three innings after holding the Mountaineers to one run on one hit in 5.1 innings one week ago, ran into trouble in the fourth against the heart of the Mountaineer order. With two out, third baseman Ivan Vera snaked a single up the middle, and first baseman Jackson Cramer made that seemingly innocuous hit hurt when he went the other way for a two-run homer to left center.
Two inning later, Myers, who had been solid through four innings of relief, put himself in a jam with a pair of one-out walks. Tech followed with a single from Tyler Neslony and a sacrifice fly from Hunter Hargrove to tie the score at two all, but the damage could have been much worse. Vera made a diving stop on a leadoff grounder to record an out at first, and both K.C. Huth and Kyle Gray made diving, sliding catches in the outfield to record the final two outs of the inning. Huth's grab of Hargrove's fly did allow Tech's second run to come home, but the Mountaineers could have easily been looking at a two- or three-run deficit without the stellar glove work.
The first two games of the regular season-ending series between the two teams followed a similar pattern to this one, without the early pitching drama. WVU jumped out early, Texas Tech responded, and then West Virginia missed on a couple of late chances to regain the lead. That didn't happen in this contest, however, as Vera ripped a one-out RBI single in the bottom of the sixth to plate Kyle Davis, who doubled to lead off the inning. That put the Mountaineers back in front 3-2. And even when Tech got its second equalizer of the game on a sacrifice fly on its at-bat, the Mountaineers remained unfazed as it came back to the plate in the bottom of the seventh.
Huth led off the inning with a walk, and Gray's single set up Jimmy Galusky in an obvious sacrifice situation. However, Galusky, who handles the bat like a magic wand in these situations, pushed his bunt past charging fielders, leaving Tech with no play anywhere. Kyle Davis followed with a three-RBI triple to the gap, his second huge hit of the tournament, to put the Mountaineers back in front. Ivan Vera completed the big turn with a sacrifice fly that brought Davis home to push the lead to 7-3.
"I was looking for something over heart of dish," Davis said of his big hit. "I was looking for something up and the mentality was to get it to the outfield. I got a lot of the barrel on the ball and it got in the gap. I didn't do anything special. It was a team win. That's just how we do it. We're tough as nails right now. We might not have the most talent up and down the lineup, but we might be the deepest team in the league."
"What a huge hit at a huge time," Mazey observed. "He's hitting well with men on base. It couldn't have come at a better time.
Against the regular season champions, though, no lead was safe. Tech came right back in the top of the eighth, scoring a run and loading the bases on just one hit, which cut the Mountaineers' advantage to 7-4. However, reliever Blake Smith, who battled control issues throughout his appearance, got a strikeout and a groundout to limit the damage to just one run.
Again, though, the Mountaineers roared back to completely flip the script from last weekend. Cole Austin looped a single to center, and two batters later Galusky beat out a slow roller to short. The play was ruled an error, but the important part was that Austin came home. Galusky then helped manufacture a run by stealing second and speeding home on Davis' single to center. Sufficiently buoyed, Smith struck out the side in the ninth to nail down the win.
"I'm really proud of his mentality," Mazey said of Smith's effort. "We extended Blake to three innings to see if he could do it last time out, and he was really good. He wasn't as good tonight but he just grinded it out."
Davis had three hits and four RBI, while Vera added two hits and two RBI. Seven different Mountaineers scored, while seven of the starters had at least one hit.
WVU now gets a well-earned day of rest, as it will take Friday off while two more elimination games are played. The Mountaineers will meet the winner of Oklahoma-Texas Tech, who square off at 4:15 ET, in the opening game of the Saturday session at 10:00 a.m.
"I can't remember the last time I had a day off," Mazey said. "We are going to enjoy it, but we didn't come down here to win two games, came down here to win the tournament. We still two more games to win."