By Ryan Decker
OKLAHOMA CITY – Last year at the Big 12 Baseball Championship tournament, West Virginia struggled in having a pitcher make it past the first three innings.
Wednesday’s starting pitcher Isaiah Kearns had no such problems in the 2017 installment of the tournament.
The WVU (33-22) freshman went distance on the mound, pitching eight strong innings in a mercy-rule shortened contest, as the Mountaineers routed the Baylor Bears 11-1.
“Wow! That’s all I can say about that one,” WVU head coach Randy Mazey said. “That’s as good a pitching performance as the Mountaineers have had all season.”
Kearns faced the minimum number of hitters through the first three innings, before giving up a two-out single in the fourth. The freshman continued to mow through the order in the fifth and sixth.
“Command the zone, throw strikes and get ahead in the count,” Kearns said when asked about his game plan going into the game. “I didn’t do that the whole game, but I worked through it and battled it out.”
And by that point Kearns had gotten all the run support he would need.
West Virginia sent 11 hitters to the plate in the bottom of the first, scoring seven runs on six hits as they jumped on Baylor (34-20) starter Nick Lewis.
Six of the seven runs scored with two outs.
Kyle Davis, Braden Zarbnisky and Jimmy Galusky collected consecutive RBI-singles, giving WVU a 4-0 lead.
Brandon White walked to load the bases for Kyle Gray, batting for the second time in the inning.
Gray tripled down the right field line, past the dive of the first baseman Aaron Dodson, clearing the bases and giving the Mountaineers a seven run advantage.
Gray finished the day 2-for-3 at the plate.
Asked how big it was to jump out to a big lead Galusky said, “Not only for the rest of the game, I think for the rest of the tournament, kind of starting off on the right foot. It gave us some confidence going into tomorrow.”
He was one of five Mountaineer hitters to have a multi-hit day, and one of four to drive in multiple runs.
Galusky led WVU at the plate, going 3-for-4.
West Virginia tallied single runs in the third and fourth innings to take a 9-0 lead.
Baylor was finally able to score a run in the seventh on a groundout by Kameron Esthay, but at that point it was too little too late.
The Mountaineers ended the game early by scoring two runs in the bottom of the eighth. Each of the first four hitters reached base, including back-to-back RBI singles by Darius Hill and Cole Austin.
West Virginia faces the winner of Texas Tech / Oklahoma State Thursday at 5 p.m. ET.