WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Coach Randy Mazey likened his WVU pitching staff to a “MASH unit” on June 1, the day before the Mountaineers opened play in an NCAA baseball regional at Wake Forest’s Couch Ballpark.
Unfortunately, he didn’t have Hawkeye Pierce to save him June 3, as Wake Forest scored in the bottom of the ninth inning for a 4-3 win, pushing the Mountaineers into an elimination game at noon today, against Maryland.
The Terps, 9-1 losers to the Mountaineers in Friday’s opening game, routed Maryland-Baltimore County, 16-2, in an elimination game earlier Saturday.
Wake Forest will play the WVU-Maryland winner at 5 p.m. today. If the Deacons win, they’ll move on to a Super Regional. If they lose, the two teams will play again Monday night.
Gavin Sheets’ one-out single to the base of the wall in right-center scored left fielder Jonathan Pryor from second base with the winning run. Pryor had led off the ninth with a single, off Braden Zarbnisky, the Mountaineers’ third pitcher. After Pryor moved to second on a sacrifice bunt, Zarbnisky intentionally walked center fielder Stuart Faircloth, but Sheets wasted no time, stroking Zarbnisky’s first pitch on a line for the game-winner.
The win raised top-seeded Wake Forest’s record to 42-18. WVU, the No. 2 seed in the regional, fell to 35-25.
For much of the game, the Mountaineers were in control.
WVU got rolling early against Parker Dunshee, Wake Forest’s starting pitcher. Kyle Gray led off the game with a line-drive double down the line in right, then scored on Darius Hill’s one-out single. After Cole Austin fouled out to the catcher, first baseman Jackson Cramer scorched a liner about 10 feet inside the foul pole in right, barely 300 feet from home plate, for a two-run homer, his 11th of the season.
Dunshee settled down and pitched six scoreless innings as the Deacons slowly crawled back into the game, getting a two-run homer in the fifth inning from shortstop Bruce Steel that chased Mountaineer starter Isaiah Kearns.
Reliever Sam Kessler silenced Wake Forest’s bats for three innings before the Deacons scratched out a run in the seventh and Zarbnisky, the Mountaineers’ designated hitter and third pitcher. Kessler gave up a two-out walk, and Pryor greeted Zarbnisky with a curving double off the wall in left center to drive home a run. Zarbnisky wound up walking the bases loaded, but he struck out first baseman Sheets to stop the bleeding.
In the eighth, Griffin Roberts, of Wake Forest, gave up a leadoff single to catcher Ivan Gonzalez, struck out Hill, then hit Austin with a pitch. But he struck out Cramer and Kyle Davis to end the inning.
Zarbnisky got in trouble in the eighth, giving up a leadoff walk, a sacrifice and an infield hit before striking out designated hitter Logan Harvey for the third out.
The Deacons left 11 runners on base, due largely to some clutch WVU pitching. An inning with two terrible baserunning blunders by Wake Forest didn’t help. Right fielder Keegan Maronpot was doubled off first on a line drive to Hill in right, and designated hitter Logan Harvey was picked off second base after a two-out double.
Roberts got the pitching win for the Deacons, raising his record to 2-4 and breaking a two-game losing streak. Zarbnisky took the loss, falling to 6-2.
Kearns, who gave up three hits and struck out four in four innings, stranded two Wake Forest runners in the fourth before getting in trouble in the fifth. Kessler, who pitched 2 2/3 innings of one-hit ball, struck out five, pitching out of jams in the sixth and seventh innings. Zarbnisky struck out two in his 1 2/3 innings.