MORGANTOWN — Rarely this season has Harrison Musgrave received the type of support he did Friday night in the opening game of West Virginia’s three-game series with Kansas State.
Then again, this was the kind of night when he didn’t need much support.
Musgrave, last season’s Big 12 pitcher of the year, allowed just three hits and struck out eight over eight innings and WVU continued its recent offensive surge as the Mountaineers routed Kansas State 10-1 in a game pushed back more than 90 minutes by rain at Hawley Field.
“I think the rain delay affected him. He wasn’t sharp the first couple of innings,’’ WVU coach randy Mazey said of Musgrave. “But after that he was typical Harrison.’’
Musgrave certainly has not enjoyed the same kind of success this season as he did last, when he went 9-1 with a 2.17 earned run average and was pretty much unbeatable. The thing is, though, he’s pitched nearly as well, at least statistically. His ERA going into this weekend’s series was nearly identical to last season at 2.18 and is now below it.
Yet Friday’s win was just the fourth of the year for Musgrave (4-3), his first in Big 12 play and the first since he beat Sacramento State on the West Coast to go to 3-0 way back on March 8. His six starts since then had been a nightmare of either no production from the WVU offense or meltdowns by the bullpen.
Musgrave, a junior left-hander from Clarksburg, has tried not to get discouraged with results that have been far different from a year ago.
“I guess it’s part of the game,’’ Musgrave said of just not getting the run support or help from his bullpen. “I mean, nobody goes out there trying to blow leads or purposely walking people. And our offense has tried, but we play in a really good pitching league, so you can’t expect 10 runs every game.’’
Well, against Kansas State, Musgrave didn’t need much from the bullpen because he did get those 10 runs. Not that he needed them on this night, though, because he was pretty much in control the whole way, walking just one and surrendering just three singles.
And he did that against a Kansas State offense that leads the Big 12 in hitting and sent out a lineup in which the first five hitters — and six all together — were batting .304 or better.
“They’re really good offensively,’’ Mazey said of the Wildcats. “That just goes to show how well Harrison pitched.’’
The WVU offense, which had produced more than three runs in a Musgrave start only once in his last six starts, gave him plenty to work with, staking him to a 7-0 lead by the end of the fourth inning.
“When you score 10 runs,’’ Musgrave said, “it makes pitching a lot easier.’’
West Virginia’s offense battered Kansas State starter Levi MaVorhis (5-5) right from the start. Second baseman Billy Fleming had RBI singles in the first and third innings, Bobby Boyd had a two-run single in the sixth and shortstop Taylor Munden doubled home two more in the sixth to increase the lead to 9-0.
The most impressive shot, though, came from first baseman Ryan McBroom, who hasn’t had many lately. McBroom hammered a line drive over the fence in center field that scored two in the fifth, his seventh home run of the season but his first since hitting one out of Appalachian Power Park against Baylor on March 30.
The win over the Wildcats was big for WVU for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is getting a good start to the three-game series, which continues with a 4 p.m. game today and then a noon start Sunday. West Virginia (22-16) is also trying to continue a push toward a possible NCAA tournament at-large berth despite a Big 12 record that now stands at just 5-7. But playing in the No. 2 conference in the country, that record is still good enough for a spot in the Top 30 of college baseball’s Rating Percentage Index.
But conversely, the Mountaineers are also trying to gain some separation from Kansas State at the bottom of the Big 12 standings. The Wildcats (23-20, 4-9 Big 12) won the league’s regular-season title last spring but are last in the nine-team league now. The last-place team is the only one that doesn’t get a spot in the eight-team Big 12 tournament in Oklahoma City.
“We went out there and beat them like this the first game and then they came back and beat us twice,’’ Mazey reminded after Friday night’s win. “So we still have a lot of work to do.’’
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.