Randy Mazey said his biggest wish entering West Virginia’s (34-21) game Wednesday against Oklahoma (28-26-1) was that his starter Michael Grove would make it through the first inning.
His wish didn’t come true. But what he got in return made him equally as happy.
Grove went down with a leg injury with just one out recorded in the top of the first, forcing Mazey to call in Ross Vance just two minutes into the ball game.
In a bit of ironic role reversal, Vance pitched masterfully in the long relief appearance, going the rest of the way and shutting out the Sooners 6-0 in the opening game of the Big 12 Baseball Championship.
“We tell our guys all the time there’s going to be somebody on this team, every day every game that’s played that wasn’t on the starting lineup card that’s going to have a major influence on the outcome of the game. And Vance was the guy,” Randy Mazey said. “It was just an unbelievable performance by a senior, who is very deserving. And there’s no one on this team that deserves what happened more than he does.”
Grove was injured along the first base line as he applied the tag to Ben Hollas. The Mountaineer freshman immediately went down in pain, and after trying to lobby his way back into the game, he exited under his own power and handed the ball over to Vance.
“As soon as (Grove) went down I heard my name,” Vance said. “The first thing I thought of was, same thing, he came in in the first inning the last time we played them. I thought, ‘Man, how cool would it be if I could do that for him?’”
Vance entered with a runner on third base, but got out of the inning. OU’s offense was practically shutdown from there on out.
Vance gave up just one hit during his 8 2/3 innings on the mound, while striking out seven and only allowing a total of four runners to reach base.
And while Vance was finding his grove on the mound, his offense was giving him a sizeable lead.
Cole Austin drove in the first run of the tournament, singling home Jackson Cramer to give WVU a one-run lead in the third. Austin finished the day going 2-for-4 at the plate including the RBI-single.
West Virginia kept its foot on the gas, scoring four runs in the fourth.
Kyle Gray and Jimmy Galusky each reached base via bunt singles to put two on with one out for leadoff hitter Kyle Davis.
Davis drilled a pitch to straightaway center field for a three-run home run, his ninth of the year, giving the Mountaineers a 4-0 lead.
WVU wasn’t done yet, each of the next two hitters reached base safely, and Darius Hill scored from third on a failed double play try by the Sooners.
West Virginia added an insurance run in the fifth when KC Huth sent a long fly ball to center field. Hollas misplayed the ball off the wall, which allowed Huth to head to third. The throw in from the outfield sailed wide of the third base bag and into the WVU dugout allowing Huth to touch home due to the ball going out of play.
The OU defensive miscue gave West Virginia a six run advantage.
And that advantage was more than enough for Vance.
Vance pitched 1-2-3 innings in six of the eight full innings he pitched in, and never faced more than four batters in a frame.
Offensively, seven of West Virginia’s nine starting hitters recorded at least one hit, and both hitters that didn’t get a hit – Hill and Jackson Cramer – both scored in the game as both reached twice via a walk.
With the win West Virginia advances in the Big 12 Championship in the winner’s bracket. The Mountaineers will play the winner of top-seeded Texas Tech and No. 8 seed Kansas State.
The victory also keeps WVU as the hottest team in the Big 12, and the rest of the conference is noticing.
When asked what he thought about no one wanting to play the Mountaineers, Mazey said, “I’ll let that up to the other coaches to figure out who they want to play, but I wouldn’t want to play the Mountaineers right now.”
Mazey and company will send Chad Donato to the mound for Thursday’s game, which is scheduled to start at 4 p.m. central time.
Fans of the Mountaineers can listen to the live broadcast on 91.7 FM or online at u92.wvu.edu