Kevin Kinder \

West Virginia Downs Pitt on Road

West Virginia took the first round of the baseball version of the Backyard Brawl on Tuesday by downing Pitt 8-4 on the road.

The West Virginia University baseball team scored two runs on a suicide squeeze and added five unearned runs in a 8-4 victory at Pitt in the Backyard Brawl on Tuesday night in Pittsburgh.

The Mountaineers (13-9) improved to 105-88 all-time in the rivalry series and have won eight of the last 12 against the Panthers (11-11). WVU has also won five in a row at Pitt’s Charles L. Cost Field.

West Virginia scored two runs in the fourth inning before breaking out with five runs in the fifth, all unearned and with two outs. On the mound, five WVU pitchers combined to hold Pitt to one run on three hits in the first eight innings before UP’s three-run rally in the ninth fell short.

“I don’t care what the score was, when you say you got a win at Pitt, that’s always a great win for our program,” WVU coach Randy Mazey said. “For recruiting, for the fans, for all the people that make up Mountaineer nation, we love to beat Pitt. We came up here and set the tone pretty early, scoring two runs on a suicide squeeze, taking the lead and throwing four freshmen at them, and they did a really good job.”

Winners of five of their last seven, the Mountaineer pitching staff got its strong day started with 3.2 innings from freshman right-handed starter Isaiah Kearns. He did not allow a run on two hits with three strikeouts and improved to 3-0 on the year.

Four relievers followed Kearns, three of them freshmen, to allow one run on one hit in 4.2 innings through the eighth inning.

Offensively, senior first baseman Jackson Cramer and sophomore third baseman Cole Austin each had two of WVU’s seven hits, while sophomore catcher Ivan Gonzalez had a hit and a team-high two RBIs on a perfectly-executed suicide squeeze.

After runners reached in the first three innings, the Mountaineers got on the board with two runs on Gonzalez’s suicide squeeze in the fourth inning. Cramer opened the inning with a single for WVU’s first hit of the game, and sophomore Austin reached on a bunt single down the third base line. A sacrifice bunt moved the runners to second and third before Gonzalez laid down a perfect bunt. With the runners going, Cramer scored easily and Austin didn’t hesitate rounding third as the throw went to first.

West Virginia broke it open in the fifth inning with five unearned runs, with the help of three hits and three errors. The scoring began with two outs, when junior left fielder Kyle Davis reached on an error by the Pitt shortstop to score one. After Cramer singled, Austin reached on a routine fly ball that was dropped by the right fielder, scoring Davis from second and Cramer from first.

Sophomore right fielder Darius Hill followed with a single to right field to bring home Austin from second. Gonzalez then reached on an infield single, but another error on the first baseman allowed Hill to score for the inning’s final run.

“Any time someone makes a bad play on defense, you want to capitalize on it. They did that, and we did,” Mazey said. “We kept scoring, and kept scoring. Good teams take advantage of opportunities like that, and we did.”

Meanwhile, freshman right-handed reliever Kade Strowd, who entered the game in the fourth inning with two outs, retired four of the five batters he faced, including a pitching a scoreless fifth.

Pitt threatened in the sixth inning, loading the bases with two outs on three straight walks. However, freshman righty Sam Kessler came in and got a strikeout to end the inning. The Panthers avoided the shutout with a solo home run in the seventh by Jacob Wright.

After a streak of nine consecutive Mountaineers retired was snapped in the eighth, WVU added a run in the ninth when Austin singled to score sophomore pinch hitter Braden Zarbnisky.

Pitt loaded the bases with no outs in the ninth inning, and scored its second run of the game on a groundout with one out. A double followed to score two, but senior righty Jackson Sigman got a strikeout to end the game.

The Mountaineers resume Big 12 play at Oklahoma State this weekend. The series in Stillwater, Oklahoma, begins on Friday, March 31, at 7:30 p.m. ET/6:30 p.m. CT, in a contest televised on FSSW+ and FCS Atlantic. Saturday’s first pitch is set for 4 p.m. ET/3 p.m. CT, while Sunday’s game will begin at 1 p.m. ET/noon CT. While OSU holds a 10-5 lead in the series, the Mountaineers have won three of the last four regular-season contests, including a 5-4 win in Stillwater in 2015 in the only game played in the weather-shortened series.

NOTES: WVU improves to 13-9 on the season, and has won five of its last seven … The Mountaineers improve to 105-88 all-time against Pitt and 41-48 in Pittsburgh … WVU has won two in a row and eight of the last 12 in the series … The Backyard Brawl is WVU’s most-played and longest-running rivalry, with the first meeting in 1895 … Starter Isaiah Kearns pitched 3.2 innings, allowing no runs on two hits with three strikeouts and two walks, and improved to 3-0 on the season … Jackson Cramer and Cole Austin led the team with two hits apiece, while Ivan Gonzalez had a team-high two RBIs.

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