Playing their first-ever game at PNC Park, the Mountaineers (28-20) scored single runs in the second, third, fourth and fifth innings to come away victorious in downtown Pittsburgh.
“We talked about it in the huddle, that the guys that pitched tonight, they’re sharing the mound with guys like Mariano Rivera, who’s pitched here, some of the greatest pitchers in the world,” WVU coach Randy Mazey said. “They got their foot on the same pitchers rubber that he did. Our guys that hit tonight, they’re sharing the batter’s box with some of the greatest players ever. It’s just kind of cool to think about that and look up and see all the seats. They all have aspirations of being Major League baseball players, everybody has since you were a little kid. It’s nice to get this carrot dangled in front of you to show them if they really work hard at this game, that really means they can do this for a living. I’m super excited for them.”
The game marked WVU’s first at a Pittsburgh Pirates home ballpark since 1998, a 9-8 win over rival Pitt at the old Three Rivers Stadium. West Virginia scored four runs on seven hits while holding the Nittany Lions (15-33) to two runs on 10 hits. Both teams committed an error.
The Mountaineer pitching staff put together another strong outing, beginning with freshman starter Sam Kessler. The righty allowed one run on five hits with five strikeouts and a walk in 4.0 innings. Freshman Cody Wood followed with 3.1 innings, allowing just one run on five hits with a strikeout. Wood earned the win and improved to 2-0 on the season. Sophomore Braden Zarbnisky closed it out with 1.2 innings of no-hit ball to pick up his team-leading fourth save.
Offensively, freshman catcher Chase Illig led the team with two hits and drove in two runs, including the eventual game-winner in the fourth inning. Zarbnisky also added a hit and an RBI, extending his hitting streak to a career-best nine games, while junior left fielder Kyle Davis walked twice to extend his reached-base streak to a season-best 18 games.
The Mountaineers jumped ahead with a run in the second inning. With one out and runners on the corners, Illig singled home his first runner of the day, scoring senior first baseman Jackson Cramer. Kessler followed with a 1-2-3 bottom half, and West Virginia added a second run in the third to make it 2-0. Sophomore second baseman Kyle Gray led off the inning with a single down the right-field line and scored three pitches later on a groundout by Zarbnisky.
WVU added another run in the fourth to extend its lead to 3-0. After Cramer led off the inning with a walk and was sacrificed to second, Illig brought him home with his second hit of the night, a double to right-center.
The Nittany Lions got on the board, cutting WVU’s lead to 3-1, in the bottom of the fourth. Three straight one-out singles put across the lone run before Kessler got two strikeouts to strand two runners and end the inning. That also marked the end of Kessler’s night, who pitched 4.0 strong innings and allowed one run on five hits with five strikeouts and a walk.
West Virginia answered right back with a run in the top of the fifth, on a sacrifice fly by sophomore third baseman Cole Austin. That scored Zarbnisky to make it 4-1.
Wood started the fifth on the mound, and worked around a leadoff single to keep Penn State off the scoreboard. Wood followed with a 1-2-3 sixth inning and allowed just one hit in the seventh. Penn State scored one in the ninth, on an RBI double to make it 4-2. That’s when Zarbnisky took the mound, with two on and one out. He struck out one before a walk loaded the bases. However, Zarbnisky got another strikeout to end the inning and strand three Nittany Lions. Zarbnisky sealed the win, and his fourth save of the season, with a perfect ninth inning.
This weekend, West Virginia welcomes Gardner-Webb to Monongalia County Ballpark for a three-game series. It begins on Friday, May 12, at 6:30 p.m., and continues on Saturday at 4 p.m. The finale is set for Sunday at 1 p.m. Prior to Sunday’s game, WVU will honor its two seniors Jackson Cramer and Jackson Sigman, for their outstanding careers as Mountaineers.