By Ryan Decker
Life ranked in the Top 25 might not be all it’s cracked up to be.
No. 21 West Virginia (23-15, 9-6), nationally ranked for the first time in over 35 years, entered this weekend’s series against Big 12 basement dweller Kansas State (21-19. 4-11) with the proverbial target on its back.
The Wildcats hit the target – twice.
Kansas State’s offense jumped on the WVU bullpen, earning all but one of its total runs off the Mountaineer relievers, in the Wildcats 11-4 victory in the series finale Sunday.
The Mountaineers did all of their damage at the plate during the fourth and fifth innings.
Kyle Gray led off the fourth inning with a home run, his second long ball of the year.
Brandon White followed with a single, advanced to second on a passed ball, and then scored all the way from second base on a throwing error by the pitcher, Kasey Ford.
West Virginia added another run in the inning on a single to right by Chase Illig that gave the Mountaineers a 3-0 lead.
Jackson Cramer singled home Gray, who reached on a double to lead off the fifth, to tack on another run.
Gray finished the game 3-for-4, and just a triple away from the cycle. He was also the only Mountaineer hitter to tally an extra-base hit.
After that, it was all Kansas State.
K-State responded with its second five-run inning of the series to take the lead.
Cameron Thompson singled down the left field line, driving in a pair of runs to cut the Mountaineer lead in half. Then, two batters later, Steve Serratore doubled into the gap in left-center field, clearing the bases, and giving the Wildcats a 5-4 lead.
Three of the runs in the frame were credited to reliever Riley Troutt, who faced three batters and failed to record an out.
Kansas State added a pair of runs in the sixth inning, and put another run on the board in the seventh on a leadoff home run by Josh Rolette.
Rolette homered for the second time in as many innings in the eighth; however, he wasn’t the only one to take a trot around the bases.
Quinten Crandall and Jake Scudder also hit solo shots in the frame. The three round trippers gave K-State a 11-4 lead.
A combination of seven Wildcat pitchers were used against the WVU hitters in the game. West Virginia recorded just one hit over the final four innings.
Sunday was the second game in a row that the Mountaineer bullpen surrendered six or more runs, and was the sixth time in the month of April relief pitchers have combined to surrender at least five runs in a game.
With the loss, West Virginia loses a three-game weekend series for the first time since March 10-12 against Old Dominion. It also goes for the second two-game losing streak of the month.
WVU hits the road Tuesday for a contest against Virginia Tech in Blacksburg. The Mountaineers then play a three-game series against Oklahoma, beginning Friday, that starts an eight game home stand.
WVU starting pitcher Michael Grove exited Saturday’s game in the first inning after throwing just 16 pitches.
It’s unclear how severe the injury is, and Grove will be evaluated by a doctor on Monday. The length of Grove’s absence will largely impact the team.
West Virginia is already without starting pitcher Conner Dotson, who will miss the remainder of the year after breaking his arm earlier this month.
The Mountaineers won 9-7 in a back-and-forth affair Friday evening in the series opener. West Virginia scored four runs in the eighth inning – its third multi-run inning of the game – to take the lead for good.
Cramer, Gray, Jimmy Galusky, each had multi-hit performances. Braden Zarbnisky earned the win, pitching 2.2 scoreless innings in relief.
Saturday was a rough day for WVU, which not only lost its starting pitcher to injury, but lost the game as well.
K-State led by one run after the fifth inning, but scored five runs in the home half of the sixth to take a commanding lead. The Wildcats won 8-4.
Wildcat starting pitcher Parker Rigler gave most of the Mountaineers troubles at the plate, other than Gray, who went 3-for-5.
Overall, Gray led West Virginia at the plate, going 9-for-14 with five RBI in the series. He tallied three hits in each of the three games.
Davis also tallied at least one hit in every game, drawing three walks, as well.