WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — WVU got about as much as it could from its first NCAA baseball tournament since 1996.
It may have gotten more than it wanted from the tournament hosts, Wake Forest, after the Deacons eliminated the Mountaineers from the postseason June 4, 12-8, at Couch Ballpark, the second time in two days the Deacons came out on top.
After a thrilling 4-3 walk-off win June 3, the Deacons didn’t leave much to chance in the elimination win by striking early and often to advance to this week’s Super Regional.
The Mountaineers overcame four series injuries during the season — including two starting pitchers who suffered season-ending injuries — and started a lineup against Wake Forest that featured seven sophomores and one senior.
“I felt like we played with a little bit of a chip on our shoulder the whole season,” head coach Randy Mazey said. “It was a great carrot to dangle in front of all our returning players this season to get to this point. Our job as coaches, our jobs as parents, is to make memories for these kids. They’ll take this memory of playing in the NCAA tournament with them for the rest of their lives. If you’re in this business for the right reasons, then it was a great season. We made a memory for them that wouldn’t have had otherwise.”
Wake Forest jumped all over starting pitcher B.J. Myers and tagged him for eight runs and 10 hits in three innings of work before he was removed for Shane Ennis in the fourth inning after surrendering a grand slam to Wake slugger Stuart Fairchild. Fairchild struck again in the fifth off Ennis, this time for a two-run shot, as the Deacons built a 12-3 lead.
The Mountaineers (36-26) hung around in the early innings, taking advantage of a shaky starting performance from Donnie Sellars and nearly matching Wake Forest run-for-run through the first three innings.
The Mountaineers trailed 2-1 after the first inning and 4-3 after the second inning before the Deacons erupted for six runs in the fourth — four of which came on Fairchild’s grand slam — and two more in the fifth inning — on Fairchild’s two-run shot — as the Deacons built a 12-3 lead.
Fairchild finished the game 2-6 with two runs scored and 6 RBIs.
“If we could play out outfielders on the other side of the fence, that’s where we would play them against that guy,” Mazey said of Fairchild. “That guy in this park is ridiculously scary. We’ve been calling him ‘Babe Ruth’ in the dugout. You’re going to watch that guy play in the Big Leagues someday if he stays healthy.
WVU responded with three runs in the bottom off the fourth to cut the lead to 12-6, before freshman pitcher Colin Peluse relived Sellars to start the fifth inning and kept the Mountaineers at bay.
Peluse (4-1) retired the first nine players he faced before surrendering two hits in the bottom of the eighth and leaving with the bases loaded and one out to a standing ovation from the Wake Forest faithful.
After Kyle Gray struck out looking on a 3-2 curve ball from reliever Griffin Roberts, Ivan Gonzalez laced a double down the left field line that scored two runs, trimming the Mountaineers deficit to 12-8.
Darius Hill struck out looking on a 2-2 curve ball with runners on second and third to end the scoring threat.
“I think it’s symbolic of West Virginia baseball that we kept scoring runs,” said Jackson Cramer, one of two seniors on the team. “I think other teams feel like they’re going to win when they get up big like that, but we’re going to keep fighting. It happened in our first game today (a comeback 8-5 win against Maryland). That’s just what’s gotten us to this point, that we keep fighting and scoring runs late in games.”
Roberts retired the side in order in the ninth to set off a wild celebration by the Deacons on the field.
“I’m super, super proud of my team,” Mazey said. “This team might go down in history as one of the best teams at West Virginia for what we were able to accomplish this year. To do it without the pitchers we lost, it was incredible that we got as far as we did and have some many of our players step up and fill roles when we needed them team. It was every guy on the team — we literally used every guy on the team the last month of the season to get where we are, and I think our guys showed a lot of heart, a lot of tenacity, and there are Mountaineer fans everywhere that are super proud of our team. This is a statement about our program and the direction it’s going. This isn’t the end. This is the beginning of an outstanding baseball program.”