By Ryan Decker
MORGANTOWN — For the third game in a row, West Virginia (21-13, 8-4) jumped out to an early lead over No. 3 Texas Christian University (27-7, 9-3). Also for the third time in the series, the Mountaineer lead didn’t hold the whole game against one of the top teams in the country.
In a series in which each of the first two games were decided by two runs or fewer with a multitude of late-inning drama, it only seemed appropriate that the finale would also be a tight ball game.
Down by a run entering the bottom of the ninth, West Virginia hitters stayed patient, drawing three straight walks to tie and win the game 5-4, to beat the No. 3 team in the country for the second time in three days.
The Mountaineers trailed by one from the fourth inning on, entering the bottom of the ninth trailing 4-3.
Ivan Gonzalez reached after being hit by a pitch. Then the next five of the next six batter drew walks to load the bases, tie the game and give the Mountaineers their second walkoff victory of the series.
West Virginia jumped on the TCU starter early, scoring a run in the first inning on a single through the right side of the infield by Jackson Cramer.
The Horned Frogs knotted the game up in the second inning on a bloop-single by Connor Wanhanen that just dropped in fair down the left field line.
Alek Manoah, the Mountaineer starter, got out of the inning with the help of a diving play in center by Brandon White.
The Mountaineers looked to take the lead back in the bottom of the frame with a pair of singles and a walk, but TCU starter Brian Howard fielded a comebacker to the mound and turned it into a 1-2-3 inning-ending double play.
Cramer drove in West Virginia’s second run of the game, in the bottom of the third. He swung at Howard’s 2-2 pitch and drilled it to the wall in left-center field, allowing Braden Zarbnisky to score all the way from first.
Davis followed suit two hitters later with an RBI double of his own to nearly the same spot in the field to give WVU a 3-1 lead.
The score wouldn’t stay that way for long, as Manoah struggled with control.
Following an RBI double by Nolan Brown, Manoah spiked a pitch well out in front of home plate that allowed the tying run to score. Two pitches later, Wanhanen singled through the infield to drive in the go-ahead run, giving TCU a 4-3 advantage and knocking the WVU starter out of the game.
Zarbnisky, Manoah’s replacement on the mound, struck out both hitters he faced to end the frame.
It was the third time in the series TCU scored three or more runs in an inning.
Zarbnisky was in control on the mound, striking out four of the first five batters he faced, and even took matters into his own hands in the sixth.
Both teams were held scoreless in the fifth and sixth innings as WVU relievers, and Howard for TCU, kept the opposing hitters at bay.
Texas Christian threatened to get back on the board in the seventh.
Austen Wade led off the inning with a double and was advanced to third on a groundout. WVU reliever Sam Kessler then walked the bases loaded, bringing Brown to the plate, who entered the game hitting .571 on the year with the bases loaded.
With the count run full, Kessler got Brown to fly out to center to end the threat and the inning.
Kessler once again danced around trouble in the eighth. He allowed each of first two hitters to reach base, but came back strong by striking out the next two batters and then inducing a fly ball to escape the situation.
Despite the gutsy performances by the WVU relievers, West Virginia couldn’t overcome the Horned Frogs pitching attack.
A trio of TCU pitchers limited the Mountaineers to just three runs on eight hits. Cramer was the only West Virginia hitter to have a multi-hit game, going 2-for-3 at the plate.
The rest of the heart of the Mountaineer order was kept in check. The three through six spots in the lineup went a combined 3-for-15, with most of that production coming from the WVU first baseman.
WVU returns to action Tuesday, on the road in Charleston. The Mountaineers will conclude their season series against Marshall at Power Park in the state’s capital.