Kaiser helps Black Bears end losing streak, 6-2

GRANVILLE — It’s not that Connor Kaiser doesn’t appreciate the history of his record-tying moment.

Nearly a month later, the voices of his then-Vanderbilt teammates are still in his head.

“They kept going, ‘What are you doing?’ ” Kaiser said after helping the West Virginia Black Bears knock off Mahoning Valley, 6-2, on June 29, in front of a sell-out crowd of 2,632 inside Monongalia County Ballpark. “They kept asking me that over and over. I wasn’t really known for hitting home runs, so they just kept yelling at me the whole game.”

On one perfect day, on June 3, Kaiser was worth the attention of his teammates, as the Commodores beat Clemson, 19-6, to advance to the Super Regionals (round of 16) of the NCAA tournament.

One sweet swing from his 6-foot-4 frame led to a three-run home run. A second led to a grand slam. A third to a two-run home run.

All in one game.

For good measure, he added a run-scoring single that gave him an amazing 10 RBIs in one game, tying the NCAA record.

“Actually, I was watching that game on TV,” Black Bears manager Kieran Mattison said. “I remember thinking that kid was having one heck of a day. Turns out, we drafted him. I was really glad about that.”

Nearly a month later, the already soft-spoken Kaiser still isn’t totally comfortable talking about the feat.

Or maybe he’s tired of being asked about it.

“I was more happy about us moving on as a team in the tournament than anything else,” Kaiser said. “It was a great moment, but I’ll remember the victory more than the stats.”

The Pittsburgh Pirates took Kaiser in the third round of the 2018 draft. He batted .293 with six home runs and 46 RBIs as a junior with the Commodores.

While there are some talented middle infielders ahead of him in the Pirates’ organization — Kevin Newman and Kevin Kramer are both having solid seasons for Class AAA Indianapolis — he isn’t backing down.

“Early on, he’s trying to make adjustments still,” Mattison said. “The speed of the game is a little faster than college. He’s learning on the fly. He’s very athletic. Once he gets comfortable, he’s going to be a productive player.”

Kaiser’s lead-off single in the third led to a two-run inning that paved the way for the Black Bears (6-8) to pick up their first win over the Scrappers (10-3) this season and end a four-game losing skid.

West Virginia pitching played a major role. Starter Michael Lopresti, a former St. John’s standout, pitched four scoreless innings and the bullpen gave up only two meaningless runs in the eighth.

The Black Bears still have the worst team ERA (5.02) in the New York-Penn League, but showed great command Friday.

“We got a lot of good effort from all of the guys who were out there,” Mattison said. “We worked on some things earlier in the week and they were able to execute those things tonight. It was a good growth moment for us.”

Kaiser’s growth as a professional hasn’t yet seen he be as productive as that day in Clemson.

He’s batting .143 over four games and is still looking for his first RBI at the pro level. He does know a little something about the subject of driving in a runs, though.

“To do something like that (10 RBIs in a game) at this level would be pretty crazy,” Kaiser said. “I don’t know if it could ever happen. You would have to have everything go right for you.”

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