\ Kevin Kinder

West Virginia's Loss A Costly RPI Defeat To Nittany Lions

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - To say head coach Randy Mazey was fuming after West Virginia's 6-5 loss to Penn State would be an understatement.

We think. Because, for the first time in his five seasons, Mazey refused the postgame interviews. It's hard to truly blame him, especially in the moment. The Mountaineers, ranked 13th in the RPI entering and again knocking on the proverbial door for an at-large NCAA Tournament bid, dropped a one-run decision to a Nittany Lion team that had lost six in a row, was just 14-32 entering the game and had gone 0-16 against Top 100 RPI teams this season.

That PSU came in at 229 in the RPI itself meant that even a WVU victory would hurt the Mountaineers in terms of ranking. A loss was thought inexcusable.

But the law of averages bit back on Tuesday, as West Virginia imploded in the top of the 9th inning after tying it on Cole Austin's solo homer in the 8th frame. Reliever Jackson Sigman, much maligned for portions of the year but hot recently, issued two walks and hit a batter to load the bases with one out in a 5-5 game. The deciding run? In an insult-to-injury situation, it scored on a simple fielder's choice double play ball that wasn't quite turned when the slower ground ball caused shortstop Jimmy Galusky's inning-ending throw to first to be a second late.

With that, Penn State had the 6-5 lead, and it sealed it in the bottom half, when Gray and Jackson Cramer, a pinch hitter after being replace by freshman Kevin Brophy at first base, both struck out and Kyle Davis flew out to center with one on.

Mazey, to his credit, wasn't lambasting his team. The on-field message had more of a "get'em tomorrow" feel. But the body language didn't lie. This was a bad loss, even with a chance to get even in the midweek series when the teams meet again on Wednesday at PNC Park. Penn State (15-32) is dead last in the Big 10, at just 2-16 in conference. They were 4-19 in true road games entering, and 2-8 in their last 10. And PSU came in and simply outplayed the Mountaineers, which have now lost 7 of their last 11 and fell from 13th in the RPI to 19th, a major slide of six spots - by far the biggest of the week thus far among teams in the Top 50.

Penn State had control through most of the sordid affair. WVU (27-20) trailed 5-2 entering the sixth inning and had managed just four hits over the first five frames before loading the bases with no outs and a red-hot Brophy coming to the plate. The freshman - who had six hits over his last seven at-bats - hit a sharp grounder to first, however, which resulted in a double play when PSU first baseman Willie Burger stepped on the bag and threw home to get Davis with the tag out. Now with two outs and no runs yet in, the Mountaineers turned to an ice-cold Galusky, who was 0-for-16 over his last six games to that point.

The shortstop fouled off a pair of two-strike pitches before slicing a bloop single into shallow right field. The ball dropped directly between the second baseman and rightfielder, allowing both Austin and Darius Hill to score to cut the deficit to 5-4. It was as perfectly placed a ball as possible, and gave Galusky his first hit and RBI since he went 3-for-3 in the series opening victory against Oklahoma on April 28.

Austin then tied the game 5-5 on the solo homer in the 8th. It was Austin's sixth of the year and gave him 32 RBI. That segued into the top of the ninth, and the eventual winning run when Penn State scored off the pair of walks, hit by pitch and failed double play. Sigman (3-4) took the loss, pitching the final 4.1 innings while allowing just the one earned run in the 9th in an otherwise solid outing. Carter Camp started, and allowed three runs in two innings before giving way to Isaiah Kearns, who pitched 2.2 frames and allowed two runs.

West Virginia forged a 1-0 lead in the first frame when a pair of two-out singles around a walk scored Braden Zarbnisky on Hill's lined shot to right. It was Hill's team-best 34th RBI of the season. Penn State answered in the second when Logan Goodnight hit his first career homer on a 2-0 fastball from Camp. The eight-hitter, who came in batting just .139 with three extra base hits all season, turned on the offering and hit a 335-foot, three-run blast that just cleared the left field wall with two outs for a 3-1 lead.

The Mountaineers trimmed that to 3-2 in the fourth inning when Austin was hit by a pitch and Brophy singled, putting two on with one out. Austin left early on a steal attempt, and was hung up between second and third base in a run down. But an inexplicable defensive lapse by the Lions, in which the throw to third was late, allowed Austin to reach, while Brophy went to second. A hit by pitch then loaded the bases before Brandon White's sac fuly scored Austin to get the Mountaineers within a run.

West Virginia seemed primed for more, with runners at the corners and the top of the line-up due. But second base umpire P.J. McConville ruled Brophy left second early on his tag up attempt, and was called out. Austin's run still counted, but Mazey heatedly argued the call to no avail.

That proved costly after Penn State plated two runs in the fifth inning, chasing Kearns after three singles, a walk and a wild pitch - all with two outs. Leading 5-2, the Lions were threatening for more with a runner at third base when Sigman entered and induced a come-backer to end the inning.

WVU falls to 11-8 at home, and 41-69 all-time against Penn State. In Mazey’s five seasons, the Mountaineers are 0-4 versus the Lions.

The second game of the series, part of a rescheduled road contest at Penn State originally slated for March 22, will be played at the Pittsburgh Pirates' PNC Park on Wednesday at 7 p.m. It is WVU's first contest at the home of the Bucs since 1998, a 9-8 win over Pitt. The game marks the 111th all-time contest between PSU and the Mountaineers, making the Lions one of just three schools to have faced WVU more than 100 times.

Note: Davis has reached base in a team-high 17 consecutive games, a stretch that included a team-best 12-game hitting streak. White had a team-best 16 game reached-base streak, which ended on April 28 against Oklahoma.

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