GRANVILLE — There is a good story behind Braden Zarbnisky and his ability to be one of the best two-way college baseball players in the country.
That was very much on display May 17, in front of 1,211 fans at Monongalia County Ballpark, as the WVU Mountaineers held on for a gutsy 2-1 win against talented Baylor, which entered the game having won 16 of its last 18 games.
On display was Zarbnisky hitting a rope down the right field line for an opposite-field triple and then scoring on Brandon White’s single to make the score 1-1, in the third.
WVU (27-23, 9-13 Big 12) won the game in the seventh inning, when Marques Inman reached on a two-base throwing error and scored on Tyler Doanes’ sacrifice fly.
Also on display: Zarbnisky pitching the eighth and ninth innings in near-dominant fashion for his first save and to secure a much-needed victory for the Mountaineers.
“Zarb is a special breed,” WVU starter B.J. Myers said. “He’s a two-way player and has to warm up between innings and doesn’t get the full bullpen time. It takes a special guy to be able to do that.”
That is the behind-the-scenes glance at the life of a two-way player such as Zarbnisky, a finalist for the John Olerud Award last season, which goes to the nation’s top utility player.
WVU head coach Randy Mazey, having gone through most of the regular season watching his starting rotation pitch inconsistently, changed his philosophy toward his hurlers.
“We had a meeting [Wednesday] and told everybody how many innings they were going to throw and what order,” Mazey said. “We were 49 games into [the regular season] and we’ve only had two starting pitchers get us into the seventh inning. Trying to extend guys; it took us 49 games to figure out that wasn’t working. We just said that we’re going to throw our best guys in shorter stints.”
Zarbnisky knew he was going to pitch the eighth and made a catch in left field to end Baylor’s seventh inning.
In the bottom of the seventh, Zarbnisky was scheduled to hit third, so this is how it all went down for the junior from Marietta, Ga.:
“When I made the catch, I knew I was going to bat that inning, so I had to run to the bullpen,” Zarbnisky said. WVU’s bullpen is beyond the right field wall.
“I sprinted all the way to the bullpen and changed my shoes. I got on the mound and warmed up some. Then I had to run down to the dugout and get ready to bat. That’s a lot of running.”
Made little difference that Zarbnisky’s at-bat was a flyout to left, but what he did in the eighth and ninth was special, Mazey said.
“That was vintage Zarb,” Mazey said. “That Zarb hasn’t shown up on both sides of the ball yet this year. What a great time for it to happen. That was the best he pitched all year.”
In the ninth, Zarbnisky went with nothing but heat. The Bears (30-19, 11-11), who entered the game second in the Big 12 with a .293 team batting average, could not catch up to Zarbnisky’s heavy dose of fastballs.
“Besides the one dirt ball I threw, everything else was fastballs,” he said. “Fastball command can help win you games. I was just going out there and attacking every hitter and not giving in to what they wanted me to do.”
He struck out the side in the eighth, while giving up a ground-rule double that Darius Hill lost in the lights.
In the ninth, he fanned two more, before Nick Loftin flied out to center to end it.
In all, six WVU pitchers did not give up a walk and struck out 11. Zach Reid picked up his first win of the season, in relief.
WVU, which needs a sweep of Baylor for an opportunity to finish as high as fifth in the Big 12 standings, will host the Bears at 3 p.m. today, for the second of a three-game series.