MORGANTOWN — If the West Virginia University baseball team plans to make a deep run in this year’s NCAA baseball tournament, Friday was a good start.
The host and top-seeded Mountaineers battled back from an early deficit to claim a 6-2 win against No. 4 seed Fordham on Friday at a sold-out Monongalia County Ballpark.
With the win, the Mountaineers advance in the winners bracket to face No. 3 seed Duke at 7 p.m. Saturday. The Blue Devils opened play Friday with an 8-5 upset win against No. 2 seed Texas A&M.
Fordham got off to a good start in the first inning when shortstop Jake MacKenzie reached on a walk and later scored on an RBI single by third baseman Matt Tarabek off West Virginia starting pitcher Nick Snyder.
Snyder, who last started in the Big 12 championship game loss to Oklahoma State last week, was tagged for three hits and the run in the first, but got out of the jam thanks in part to a failed stolen base attempt and later a botched double steal attempt by the Rams.
"We talked about their running game coming into it and how many bases they’ve stolen," WVU coach Randy Mazey said. "Personally, I like that because the way we like to hold runners and the way we pick and having Pudge [senior catcher Ivan Gonzalez] behind the plate, if somebody likes to run like that, they are going to give us some free outs. And fortunately, we had two in the first inning. Without the caught stealing to start the inning and the caught stealing to end the inning, we might not have survived that first inning."
Snyder settled down from that point, which allowed the WVU offense to relax and go to work.
In the third inning the Mountaineers finally broke through.
After left fielder T.J. Lake singled and was thrown out attempting to steal second base, Fordham starting pitcher John Stankiewicz walked shortstop Tevin Tucker, gave up a single to second baseman Tyler Doanes and walked center fielder Brandon White -- with Tucker taking advantage of the fourth ball being a wild pitch and scoring from second. Darius Hill then hit a sacrifice fly to bring Doanes in before a bases-loaded walk to Gonzalez allowed White to score from third base.
The Mountaineers were back at it in the sixth inning. Gonzalez opened the inning by taking walk, followed by a single from third baseman Kevin Brophy. Lake and Tucker would follow with outs before Doanes smacked a double into the right-center field gap, allowing Gonzalez and Brophy to score.
"Yeah [I thought he was going to catch it]," Doanes said. "I hit it, it was kind of lofting out there. I was running hard, [saying] ‘Please drop, please drop.’ Once I saw it drop, I was just celebrating, the fans went crazy. It was just great."
McIntosh walked and scored on a Gonalzez double in the seventh before Fordham got one back in the eighth thanks to a Mountaineer fielding error, but that was it.
Snyder got the win for West Virginia, going five innings while allowing four hits and one run while striking out six and walking three.
"My fastball command wasn’t what it usually is today," Snyder said. "I missed a lot of arm-side and up. It’s a grind, but I’ve just got to make adjustments."
Right-hander Kade Strowd finished the game for WVU once Snyder was done, allowing one run on zero hits while striking out five but also walking four Rams.
Junior right-hander Alek Manoah, the 2019 Big 12 Pitcher of the Year and a likely first-round pick in next week’s Major League Baseball Draft, will pitch Saturday for the Mountaineers against Duke.
"We’re just going to take the momentum that we have right now and take it game-by-game, pitch-by-pitch, like we always do," Gonzalez said. "Obviously, we’ll go over the pitching staff, we’ll go over their hitters for a little bit. Other than that, it just comes down to us playing Mountaineer baseball. We have to make the right plays, we have to make the right pitch. We’ve just got to execute. We’re going to take that into tomorrow."