OKLAHOMA CITY — As far as adversity goes, West Virginia seemed buried in it as the opening game of the Big 12 baseball tournament wore on Wednesday morning.
For starters, the Mountaineers were playing a game that started at 9 a.m. local time, not exactly the norm for a first pitch. It was also their eighth straight road game and their 39th of the season away from Morgantown.
And not only had the Mountaineers given up a 2-0 lead by allowing Kansas to put together back-to-back four-run innings to take an 8-2 lead, they had seen their best pitcher roughed up and knocked out of the game. They appeared well on their way to an eighth straight loss that might have all but doomed their hopes of playing their way into the NCAA tournament.
How’s that for adverse conditions?
“But it seems like this team thrives on adversity,’’ coach Randy Mazey said. “We like tough conditions. We kind of shine when it’s an uncomfortable situation.’’
Well, West Virginia certainly shone this time. The Mountaineers erupted for eight runs in the seventh inning — seven coming after two outs — to retake the lead, then held on for a 10-9 win over Kansas at Bricktown Ballpark.
The win puts sixth-seeded West Virginia (28-24) into a winner’s bracket game at 5 p.m. today against No. 2 seed TCU (39-15), which defeated Baylor 8-5 in Wednesday’s second game.
The Mountaineers appeared on the ropes after No. 3 seed Kansas scored four runs in both the fifth and sixth innings against WVU ace Harrison Musgrave to take that 8-2 lead. Musgrave, pitching on short rest for the second week in a row, had battled through the first five innings and kept the Jayhawks off the board despite not having his best stuff. But Kansas would eventually rock him for nine hits before chasing him with two out in the sixth.
It appeared that when Musgrave left he might have been injured, but he later insisted that was not the case.
“I just got a little tired,’’ he said. “And I just had a fastball and it’s easy to sit on one pitch.’’
While Musgrave was struggling, Kansas starter Jordan Piche was not. Piche struck out 11 WVU batters — tying a Mountaineer season high — and was nearly untouchable after the Mountaineers scored twice with two out in the first.
“I thought I was going to stand there and watch him strike out 20,’’ Mazey said of Piche. “That’s as good a game as anybody has pitched against West Virginia.’’
Apparently, though, sitting through those two four-run innings that gave him the lead took its toll on Piche. He gave up a single and two walks to start the seventh and was pulled in favor of Drew Morovick.
“When he came back out I didn’t think he was the same guy,’’ Mazey said of Piche after the pitcher was idled for so long during the Kansas offensive outbursts. “It was almost like a rain delay.’’
But when Piche was relieved, that’s when West Virginia exploded. With one out and the bases loaded the Mountaineers scored what might have been a harmless run on a fielder’s choice for the second out. But it was only the beginning.
Ryan McBroom and Jacob Rice hit back-to-back doubles, Brad Johnson and Cam O’Brien singled and then freshman designated hitter Jackson Cramer blasted the first home run of his college career, giving WVU a 10-8 lead.
“It was good timing for a first home run,’’ Cramer said.
Meanwhile, Ryan Tezak and Pascal Paul tried to keep Kansas at bay after Musgrave’s exit. Tezak (5-1) recorded just one out after giving up three hits in relief of Musgrave to get out of the sixth, but because the Mountaineers’ explosion came the next inning he earned the win. Paul pitched a scoreless seventh, but then hit a batter and gave up a double to start the eighth.
That’s when Mazey went to his closer. Sean Carley got two quick outs, but then walked a batter and hit another to force in a run to make it 10-9. But Carley got out of that inning with a fly ball and then survived two walks in the ninth to get the final three outs.