Behind The Brilliance Of Michael Grove, West Virginia Defeats Kansas, Takes Series

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - Michael Grove allowed just one hit over eight shutout innings and was backed by three home runs as West Virginia beat Kansas 8-0 on Saturday.

The right-hander was brilliant over 109 pitches, keeping Kansas off balance by mixing spots and speeds. Grove's control was excellent even late in the game as he battled back from three three-ball counts in the 7th and 8th innings to record outs. He struck out 12, one shy of a career high, and didn't issue a walk in facing one batter over the minimum.

"Fastball-slider combo," said Grove, who lowered his ERA to 2.27. "I was keeping my fastball low at the knees for the first half of the game. My breaking ball really works off my fastball. If I keep that low, people swing and miss at my slider when I throw it in the dirt."

Which is exactly what happened. The Wheeling native was nearly untouchable through seven innings, striking out the side in the seventh and getting four consecutive strikeouts over the third and fourth frames. The offense, via home runs from Darius Hill, Jackson Cramer and Kyle Davis, had built the 8-0 lead by the fifth inning to give Grove a cushion.

"You can never anticipate something like that going on in the field," Grove said. "But I felt good in the bullpen. (The lead) gave me the confidence to be really aggressive with pitches, even behind in the count."

It was the sophomore's second flirtation with near perfection after he allowed no hits or runs with 11 strikeouts over five innings in a 3-1 victory over Old Dominion on March 10. But his pitch count had reached 85 in that game, and the coaching staff chose to pull him with a 1-0 lead because of a finger injury.

With Grove tiring but perfect heading to the 8th, Randy Mazey let him stay in and finish the frame even after KU third baseman Kaimana Souza-Paaluhi broke up the bid with a two-out single up the middle. Grove (3-1) induced a ground out to first, and left with a standing ovation from the crowd, as well as a series of handshakes and pats on the back from teammates.

"That was really nice," said Grove, whose parents and sister were in attendance. "I appreciate our crowd and everybody who stuck around to watch until the end. I was pretty good until about the seventh. I thought if I get through the top of the order one more time, I have a chance. I can't say I wasn't thinking about it. I had to take some deep breaths. Fastball down the middle (broke up the no-hitter). I just wasn't going to walk anybody."

Riley Troutt struck out the side in the ninth inning to secure the shutout and West Virginia's sixth consecutive victory and 11th in 14 games. The Mountaineers never allowed a runner to reach scoring position in striking out 15 Jayhawks as the Big 12's worst offense again fizzled. Kansas has scored just one run against WVU in the first two series games.

"That's aas good of a game as I have had pitched for us," head coach Randy Mazey said. "What Michael did was phenomenal. Command of two pitches and throwing his fastball where he wanted and really throwing a good slider up there. A perfect game puts a lot of pressure on a lot of people. It puts pressure on everybody on defense. If he keeps that up, it'll be a good feeling going into every Saturday game from now on."

Grove was backed by 14 hits, including the trio of homers from Hill, Davis and Cramer that helped WVU put up four runs in both the 4th and 5th innings. Hill did the initial damage, getting a two-run shot to left that opened the scoring after Cole Austin's double. West Virginia tacked on two more in the inning when Brandon White slapped a two on, two-out single up the middle that made it 4-0 in the 4th.

Cramer then added his team-leading sixth homer of the season, a deep, arcing shot to right that carried well over the wall for the 5-0 lead. Davis effectively polished off the Jayhawks with his three-run homer that scored Hill and Austin for the 8-0 edge.

Austin and Davis finished with three hits apiece, and Cramer, Hill and White also had multi-hit games as West Virginia - third in the conference in average - racked up six extra base hits.

That was more than enough for Grove, who struck out five Kansas players at least twice. The Jayhawks (13-17, 3-5 Big 12) have managed just six hits in the two series defeats, getting beat by a combined 18-1. The victory marked the first time West Virginia (19-10, 6-2) has taken its first three Big 12 series since joining the league. The Mountaineers have turned an 8-7 start into being nine games above .500 and tied with Texas Tech for second place in the conference.

"It takes northern teams a while to get rolling, and it took us 15 games to figure out the line-up and the pitching rotation," Mazey said. "We are starting to learn how to play together, play with confidence."

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