By Ryan Decker
OKLAHOMA CITY — Fourth-seeded West Virginia (34-23) entered the top of the eighth inning facing elimination square in the face. The Mountaineers were down by three runs, with the bottom of the order scheduled to hit against a bend-but-don’t-break Texas Tech (43-15) pitching staff.
Isaiah Kearns started the comeback by producing one run in the eighth. 6-4 WVU trailed entering what looked to be it’s final at bat.
It was not.
WVU’s bats broke out to score two in the ninth to tie, and six –– SIX –– in the top of the tenth to earn a 12-7 comeback victory to escape elimination and advance in the Big 12 Baseball Championship Tournament.
“That one’s tough to put into words,” Mazey said. “Before the game we talked about this being the toughest game in any confrence tournament, regional, the first loser’s-bracket game where you’re coming off a loss playing a team coming off a win. This is the game where you find out what your team is made of.”
Kearns began the comeback in the eight, blasting a no-doubt home run clear out of the ballpark over left field to bring West Virginia to within one.
An inning later, Jackson Cramer, who had already stranded four runners previously in the game, put a hard hit ball into right field.
Tech right fielder Ryan Long overplayed it, allowing the ball to roll all the way to the wall. Darius Hill flew home from second, as Cramer chugged the full 360 feet from home plate, sliding in head-first ahead of the tag to tie the ball game
A long fly ball by Orlando Garcia nearly ended things in the bottom of the frame, but Mountianeer reliever Braden Zarbnisky stayed steadfast on the mound, helping his team play into the tenth.
“Zarb” singled to right field in the extra inning, as he was one of 10 WVU hitters to hit in the inning.
His single followed Cramer’s bases-clearing double two batters before. The WVU first baseman’s three-RBI two-bagger put WVU in front 11-6.
Cramer finished the game 2-for-5 with five RBI.
Zarbnisky’s single in the tenth was his lone hit. But for the second time this year against the Red Raiders, he scored more runs at the plate (1) than giving up on the mound (0).
“You can go up and down this entire lineup of guys that saved the game,” Mazey said. “From Kyle Gray’s amazing catch – first and third, no body out and doubling that guy off at first – (Ivan Gonzalez) picking that guy off at third base with less than two outs.”
“You want to play your best baseball at the end of the season. This is the best baseball we’ve played all year.” — Randy Mazey, WVU head coach
Kyle Gray and Cole Austin also had run-scoring hits in the tenth.
Gray and Austin were two of five Mountaineer hitters to have multi-hit days.
Alek Manoah started the game on the mound for WVU, throwing 4.2 innings of four-hit ball, while striking out six. However, during that time, the freshman walked five and hit two batters.
Ryan McDonald appearead in relief for WVU, only lasting 1.1 innings on the bump, allowing two runs on a home run in the seventh to Long, the same player that allowed two balls to get past him in the field, and hit into the game-ending double play in the bottom of the tenth.
Zarbnisky, throwing 61 pitches in his longest relief outing of his career, earned the win to improve to 6-1 on the season, continuing to prove his importance.
“How many people in the nation are doing what this guy is going?” Mazey asked. “That’s a major contributor on both sides of the the baseball.”
West Virginia is back in action Saturday at 9 a.m. CT against Oklahoma State. WVU needs to win twice tomorrow to move onto the championship game Sunday.
OSU, being undefeated in the tournament, needs just one win to advance.
WVU action can be heard all day Saturday and Sunday (if necessary) on 91.7 FM in the Morgantown area, or on u92.wvu.edu.