WVU outfielder Vince Ippoliti kept his head in the game after four tough plate appearances, and the redshirt junior came up with a huge hit in the clutch to give the Mountaineers a good start to their 2021 baseball season.
The redshirt junior smacked an 0-2 pitch from Georgia State reliever Mason Patel over the left field wall in the top of the 10th inning to break a 3-3 tie, sending the Mountaineers on to a 5-3 win over the homestanding Panthers Friday in Atlanta.
Reliever Madison Jeffery got the final five outs and the win for WVU, including a pair of strikeouts in the bottom of the ninth to squelch a Panther scoring threat, but the finish wasn’t without some excitement.
After getting the first two outs in the bottom of the 10th, GSU’s Ashby Smith lifted a popup to the left side. Strong wind, as it had all day, blew the ball around, and it fell in short left field. However, Ashby tried to stretch the misplay into a double, and WVU shortstop Tyler Doanes threw him out at second to end the game.
The contest was tightly contested all the way, with three ties and neither team leading by more than one run until Ippoliti’s blast, which was his only hit of the game. Prior to that, he had grounded out, struck out, hit into a double play and been hit by a pitch.
WVU starter Jackson Wolf got off to a shaky start, walking GSU leadoff hitter Kalen Puckett on four pitches and hitting Griffin Chaney two pitches later. After a sacrifice and a strikeout, he issued another four-pitch free pass to Ashby Smith, which loaded the bases. He followed with his third walk of the frame to Dalton Pearson, forcing in a run to give the Panthers a 1-0 lead. A strikeout of Ryan Glass ended the frame.
Mountaineer first baseman Matt McCormick wasted no time in drawing WVU even as he crushed a ball deep over the right-center field wall to tie matters up at 1-1 in the top of the second, and the back and forth continued over the next inning. A Kevin Brophy throwing error from third put Georgia State’s Griffin Cheney in scoring position, and Will Mize’s RBI hopper up the middle brought him around to put the Panthers back in front at 2-1 in the bottom of the third.
Then it was West Virginia’s turn again, as Paul McIntosh hammered a double to left to drive home McCormick, who had bunted his way aboard, to knot the score at 2-2 in the top of the fourth.
Georgia State starter Ryan Watson was solid through five innings of work, striking out seven while walking none. He yielded the big homer to McCormick and the RBI double to McIntosh, but also produced three 1-2-3 innings while inducing a double play.
When Watson departed in the sixth, the Mountaineers took advantage. Hudson Byorick and Doanes singled, Ippoliti was hit by a pitch, and McIntosh drew an RBI walk to put the Mountaineers ahead at 3-2 with just one out. However, WVU failed to produce more from the big opportunity, as Panther reliever Joseph Brandon got a pair of popups to end the fifth.
Zach Ottinger, on in relief of Wolf, gave up three singles in the bottom of the sixth, the third of which scored a run to tie the game up at 3-3.
From there, West Virginia’s relief corps exerted itself. Ottinger produced a clean seventh, and Skyler Gonzalez recorded four outs against five batters, aided by McIntosh’s cutdown of Smith, who tried a delayed steal with two outs in the top of the eighth.
Wolf did not have the control he usually exhibits, as he walked four Georgia State batters, hit two others and uncorked a wild pitch. However, he allowed only one hit in his five innings of work, and struck out seven while holding the Panthers to two runs (one earned) during his mound stint.
West Virginia’s attempt to retake the lead in the top of the seventh was cut down at the plate when freshman Nathan Blasick, who worked a walk in his first plate appearance as a Mountaineer, attempted to score on Byorick’s double to center. Two good throws and a solid play from catcher Tanner Gallman prevented Blasick from putting the Mountaineers back in front, setting up scoreless innings in the eighth and ninth before Ippoliti’s clout.
Doanes was 3 for 4 on the day while Byorick and McCormick had two hits apiece. Mountaineer pitchers struck out 15 Panthers on the day.
Smith was 3 for 4 for GSU. Patel was tagged with the loss.
The Mountaineers and Panthers return to the diamond Saturday for a doubleheader, with the first game set for 1 p.m. WVU will send a pair of left-handers to the hill for the twin bill, with St. Albans’ Jake Carr (2-1, 1.52 ERA in 2020) and junior college transfer Adam Tulloch (0-1, 2.88 in six games in 2020 at College of Central Florida) getting the ball for the Mountaineers.
Georgia State is expected to counter with a pair of lefties of its own — sophomore Seth Clark (0-1, 5.09 ERA in 2020) and second-year freshman Cameron Jones (2-1, 1.00 ERA in 2020).
n Just two umpires worked the opener. There has been some concern over the availability of umpires for college games this season.
n West Virginia’s defense, a concern with the loss of Tevin Tucker for the year, had some uncertain moments on the windy day, which made tracking popups an adventure. The Mountaineers allowed two such balls to fall for hits, including the last one which Doanes turned into an out. WVU also had three infield throwing errors and missed a chance for a double play on a low throw to first.