OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. — It’s merely a three-block bus ride from the West Virginia baseball team’s hotel to Bricktown Ballpark.
Yet during that brief trip Saturday evening, something crucial happened: Freshman Ryan Bergert learned he’d be making his first college start.
Short notice turned out to be the correct play.
Bergert dazzled over five scoreless innings, and fellow freshman Zach Ottinger kept the zeroes coming in his longest relief outing of the season.
Their combined one-hitter — aided by yet another Brandon White diving catch — carried fourth-seeded West Virginia through the Big 12 tournament semifinals with a 2-0 victory over regular-season champ Texas Tech.
“These two guys, to do what they did tonight, it’s what older kids are supposed to do,” said Mountaineers coach Randy Mazey. “One-hitting one of the best offensive teams in the country. No walks, just attacking hitters all night long.”
West Virginia (37-19), rebounding from a blowout loss to the Red Raiders earlier in the day, advanced to Sunday’s championship round against the winner of Oklahoma State and TCU. [That semifinal won’t be completed until Sunday morning after tornado-like conditions plagued OKC.]
Of more importance, the Mountaineers maintained a No. 12 RPI and primed themselves to host an NCAA regional.
“I’ve been running the numbers in my mind, and looking at my cellphone to watch other scores,” Mazey said. “I’ve gotta believe that we’re one of the best 16 teams in the country. It would be a shame if they didn’t put a regional in Morgantown.”
Opening the night with back-to-back strikeouts, Bergert (2-0) retired the first 13 batters he faced before Cameron Warren’s line-drive single.
That was it for Texas Tech (39-17), whose big-bopping offense fluttered against the freshmen.
Bergert had thrown no more than 50 pitches in any of his 11 relief appearances. This time, his 78th and final pitch came with two aboard in the fifth. Easton Murrell lined a full-count pitch into right-center, where White took flight for another acrobatic catch.
“I missed my spot, he hit the ball hard, and then Brandon came out of nowhere,” Bergert said. “Just a blessing.”
The 6-foot-2 newcomer from Canton, Ohio, was a blessing for the Mountaineers, whose veteran pitchers issued 10 walks in the 10-3 loss hours earlier. Bergert didn’t face a 2-0 count until Josh Jung led off the fifth. With his fastball fading, Bergert battled back to whiff the Big 12 co-player of the year on nasty curveball.
Ottinger, a recruit from Marietta, Ga., followed with four nearly perfect innings to earn his first save. He struck out three and started 10 of 13 batters with first-pitch strikes.
Texas Tech had been shut out once previously, by projected first-rounder Alek Manoah. To see his unknown teammates do it was more baffling.
“We needed to strong more good at-bats together,” said Texas Tech coach Tim Tadlock. “Their pitchers did a good job. They threw strike one and that’s where it all starts.”
The only runner to reach against the kid nicknamed “Otter” came on a throwing error by shortstop Tevin Tucker.
“I didn’t let it bother me,” Ottinger said. “I just tried to execute my pitches like there was nobody on base.”
White’s three-hit night included a leadoff single in the sixth. That was followed by a stolen base on which the catcher’s errant throw deflected off White’s helmet allowing the runner to take third. Marques Inman’s double-play grounder eventually gave WVU a two-run cushion.
Hunter Dobbins (2-1), making only his second start of the season for Texas Tech, delivered a quality performance too. He lasted six innings and gave up two runs on five hits.
In the third inning, singles by Tyler Doanes and White put runners on the corners, before Darius Hill lifted a shallow pop into right field. Doanes’ aggressive decision to tag paid off when Gabe Holt’s throw tailed up the line.
That staked West Virginia to a 1-0 lead no one could’ve predicted would hold up.
But with Bergert lowering his ERA to 1.75, one run was enough. As were a few minutes’ worth of preparation on the bus.
“If you tell him too early, he’s probably not going to be able to sleep,” Mazey said. “He’s probably gonna call his family and they probably would’ve took a red-eye here. Didn’t want him to know until it was time to get going.”
So what time can Sunday’s starter for the 1 p.m. championship expect an announcement? “About 12:15 p.m.,” Mazey said.