By Ryan Decker
No. 21 West Virginia (22-13) entered play on Tuesday as a ranked team for the first time since 1982.
The Mountaineers not only traveled to Power Park in the state capital trying to defend their new ranking, but also to keep a strong hold on bragging rights in the state, facing off against in-state rival Marshall (18-18).
A strong performance at the plate by Ivan Gonzalez, including a pair of extra-base hits, led the way as West Virginia picked up an 8-4 victory over the Thundering Herd Tuesday night in Charleston, sweeping the season series.
West Virginia jumped out to a quick lead, continuing a trend it established over the weekend.
Cole Austin drew a two-out walk and Darius Hill hit an RBI-single to right field. Two hitters later, Jimmy Galusky singled to left, plating another run.
Hill was thrown out at the plate trying to score from second, ending the top of the first with the Mountaineers up 2-0.
WVU starting pitcher Kade Strowd struggled to pitch efficiently early on, needing 52 pitches to record the first six outs.
With Marshall seeing a lot of pitches, the Herd were able to find some they liked in the second inning, using a walk and a pair of singles to cut the deficit in half.
The two teams traded runs in the third, and each also scored in the fifth. West Virginia had at least one runner touch home in all but three innings, only failing to score in the second, seventh and eighth frames.
Kyle Davis hammered a solo shot over the fence in left in the fifth, and Gonzalez blasted a two-run home run over the left fielder’s head an inning later, putting the Mountaineers ahead 7-4.
Gonzalez finished the game 4-for-5 at the plate, scoring three times and driving in a trio runs on the home run and a ground-rule double in the fourth.
As much scoring as WVU was doing, the Mountaineers had more opportunities leaving plenty of runners on the base paths. West Virginia stranded six base runners through the first four innings, and ended the game with a total of seven runners left on base.
Both starting pitchers struggled to pitch efficiently.
Strowd needed 95 pitches to get through his four-plus innings on the mound, and Marshall starting pitcher Will Ray tossed 102 pitches in 5.1 innings of work. Strowd was responsible for Marshall’s first three runs, whereas Ray surrendered a total of seven runs.
The two starters also combined to issue nine walks.
Riley Trout recorded the remaining 15 outs on the mound for WVU. He limited the Marshall offense to just four hits, while striking out four and walking none, during his five innings on the mound.
WVU added an insurance run in the ninth on a groundout by Hill.
Eight of the nine Mountaineer starters recorded at least one hit, with the exception being Kyle Gray, who still reached base twice via walks. Gray leads the team with 32 walks.
Shane Hanon led the Herd with a 3-for-4 day at the plate.
West Virginia is in the midst of a five-game road trip, with upcoming games in Manhattan against Kansas State and Blacksburg against Virginia Tech. The Mountaineers return to Monongalia County Ballpark next Friday for a three-game series against a ranked Oklahoma team.
That beings a stretch in which WVU plays 12 out of 13 games at home.