OKLAHOMA CITY — This time West Virginia’s baseball team had no answer. Well, at least it didn’t have enough of one.
A day after countering two big Kansas innings with an even bigger one of their own, the Mountaineers couldn’t overcome a five-run explosion by TCU in the eighth inning Thursday and lost 6-2 to the Horned Frogs in the winner’s bracket of the Big 12 tournament.
The loss puts the sixth-seeded Mountaineers (28-25) in a 4:15 p.m. elimination game today against No. 7 seed Baylor (25-30). The Bears, who went 0-2 against WVU in Charleston back in late March, eliminated Kansas earlier Thursday, 4-3.
TCU (40-15) broke up a pitchers’ duel between its Big 12 pitcher of the year, Preston Morrison, and surprise West Virginia starter Corey Walter with those five eighth inning runs. It was a 1-0 game to that point.
That was close to what the Mountaineers faced Wednesday in the opening game against Kansas, when the Jayhawks scored eight runs in the fifth and sixth innings, but WVU countered with eight of its own in the seventh and won 10-9.
This time the Mountaineers could manage only two runs in the bottom of the eighth and none in the ninth against Morrison,
“We had a good effort with seven hits. That’s more than he usually gives up,’’ WVU coach Randy Mazey said of Morrison, whom he coached while an assistant at TCU. “To beat a guy like that you’ve got to take advantage of every opportunity and we just didn’t do that.’’
Indeed, West Virginia got more hits off Preston than the five TCU managed against Walter (four) and reliever Michael Bennett. But they didn’t come at the right times. Even in the eighth, when WVU scored its two runs, the Mountaineers had the bases loaded with one out but could only manage a sacrifice fly by second baseman Billy Fleming and a single by first baseman Ryan McBroom in the heart of the order.
“We were confident. We knew we weren’t out of it after what we did [Wednesday],’’ Fleming said. “We got a couple. It wasn’t enough, but we went down swinging.’’
What Walter did was nearly enough until the eighth. A senior from Wheeling, Walter didn’t find out he even had a chance to start until Wednesday night, but then allowed just four hits over seven-plus innings. Half of those came in the fifth when TCU scored its first run.
“Corey Walter was fun to watch,’’ Mazey said. “I hope that’s not his last performance as a Mountaineer. If we do continue to play in the postseason, I have no doubt Corey can beat any team we face.’’
Walter finally ran out of gas in the eighth, but even then he seemed close to getting out of a huge jam. He started the inning with a strikeout before issuing two walks and hitting a batter to load the bases, but then got a fly ball out that wasn’t deep enough to score anyone for the second out.
But then he gave up another walk to cleanup hitter Kevin Cron to force in a run, a two-run double to Garrett Crain and then a two-run single to Jerrick Suiter. Bennett relieved him and didn’t give up another run, but by then the damage was done.
But while Walter (1-6) eventually cracked, Morrison (9-3) did not. He walked just one and struck out six and pitched a complete game. Mazey has seen plenty of Morrison and knows that hitters have to have a plan against any great pitcher. But Morrison was too good Thursday for any plan.
“He trashes that,’’ Mazey said. “He trashes your approach. Good pitchers have a way of doing that.’’
The win dealt yet another blow to WVU’s hopes of reaching the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1996, but those chances aren’t dead. The Mountaineers still have an RPI good enough for strong consideration, but they’ve also now lost eight of their last nine and probably have some work left to do, beginning today.
If West Virginia wins today’s game against Baylor, the Mountaineers would then meet TCU again Saturday, needing to win twice in order to reach Sunday’s conference title game. The WVU-Baylor winner will face the Horned Frogs first at 10 a.m. Saturday and then, if necessary, at 5 p.m.