West Virginia managed just three hits in the Sunday’s series finale against Georgia State, but the Mountaineers manufactured three runs with their running game and the help of three Panther errors to take a 3-2 win and earn a split of the four-game series at the GSU Baseball Complex in Atlanta.
West Virginia (2-2) got on the board first in the top of the second when Matt McCormick smacked a double to left center, advanced to third on an error and came home on a wild pitch. WVU worked two walks to load the bases but a fly ball ended what could have been a much more productive inning.
Georgia State responded with single runs in the third and fourth to take the lead off WVU starter Tyler Strechay. The Panthers evened things up in the third when Josh Smith doubled, moved to third on a sacrifice bunt and scored on a ground out, then took a 2-1 lead in the fourth on a single, a ground out, a stolen base and an RBI single.
That was all the scoring the home team could muster, although it did put runners in scoring position in both the seventh and eighth innings. West Virginia’s relief staff shut those threats down, however, as Ben Hampton, Zach Ottinger and Jacob Watters combined for five shutout innings with six strikeouts while allowing just one hit. The trio did allow a combined four walks but came up big in key moments.
WVU used an error and its running game to retake the lead in the top of the sixth, but once again a chance to put up a big number was left wanting. After being hit by a pitch, Paul McIntosh was pushed to second on a Dominic Ragazzo walk, and then moved on to third on a fielder’s choice which put Victor Scott aboard. Scott then stole second, and when the throw skipped into center field, McIntosh scored and Scott moved to third.
Mikey Kluska’s bunt scored Scott, but after a walk and an error loaded the bases with one out, a popup and a lineout ended the inning.
The first of the critical moments for the Mountaineer pitching staff came in the seventh, when GSU put a runner on third with two out. Hampton, a freshman making his first appearance, got a strikeout to end the inning. In the eighth, reliever Zach Ottinger dug himself a hole with a pair of walks and a wild pitch but got Panther hitting stalwart Elian Merejo to hit into a double play, which third baseman Kevin Brophy slickly turned by tagging out the runner coming down from second and firing across the diamond to retire Merejo.
In the ninth it was Watters’ turn, and although he provided a nervous moment by walking GSU’s Will Mize on four pitches to open the frame, he rebounded by turning up the heat to strike out the side to preserve the win and earn the save. Hampton’s three-inning scoreless stint earned him the win.
Vince Ippoliti, McCormick and Kluska had West Virginia’s hits, with Kluska accounting for the only RBI. Ashby Smith had two hits and a RBI for the Panthers (2-2) in a game that was played under sunny skies with temperatures in the low 50s.
West Virginia returns to the road next weekend for a round-robin series at Coastal Carolina in Conway, South Carolina. The Mountaineers will face Kennesaw State on Friday, Coastal Carolina on Saturday and Bryant on Sunday at Coastal’s Spring Brooks Stadium. First pitch for the Kennesaw State game is set for 11:30 a.m.