GRANVILLE — Everything after the first at-bat of the game went West Virginia’s way Wednesday as the Mountaineers won their 2023 home opener 8-1 over visiting Canisius.
The first batter of the game, Canisius’ Jackson Strong, took a 2-2 fastball deep off of WVU (7-4) starter Gavin Van Kempen and sent it over 400 feet off the batter’s eye in center field as the Golden Griffins (2-6) led 1-0 after the first batter of the game.
“I actually think that was good for us that that guy hit a homer,” WVU coach Randy Mazey said. “Had they thrown up four of five zeroes in a row, we might have just thought it was going to be an easy game. The fact that he did that may have woken us up a little bit early on…Since we won, I’m glad he did hit the homer.”
The early home did not seem to phase the freshman Van Kempen, making his first college start, as it was the only run he allowed in 5 2/3 innings of work. Van Kempen, who was drafted in the 20th round by the St. Louis Cardinals last year, stuck out eight batters with a fastball-slider combo and did not issue a walk while allowing just six hits.
“I tell the pitchers all the time that solo homers early in the game rarely beat you,” Mazey said. “Attacking the first hitter of the game and giving up a homer didn’t affect him at all, he just came back and attacked everybody else the rest of the game. I was really, really encouraged by him today.”
Canisius’ lead did not last long as WVU’s second hitter, second baseman J.J. Wetherholt, hit a ball out to right-centerfield that scored leadoff hitter Braden Barry and put the Mountaineers up 2-1. Wetherholt finished with a home run, two doubles, a sacrifice fly and a walk in five plate appearances. The homer was already his fourth of the year as his batting average rose to an absurd .489 with hits in all 11 of WVU’s games this season.
“That’s not that unusual here the last month and a half,” Mazey said of Wetherholt’s performance. “He’s performing at a whole different level than everybody else on the field right now. I just talked to him about having peaks and valleys and sometimes as a hitter you just get hot. He’s been hot and he’s stayed hot and he’s just super consistent at the plate.”
Wetherholt’s sacrifice fly made it a 3-0 lead in the fifth and Barry’s three-run, line drive home run out to left in the sixth made it a 6-1 affair.
Caleb McNeely and Dayne Leonard each had run-scoring hits later, both scoring Wetherholt, to round out WVU’s day on offense. The Mountaineers were led by Wetherholt and Barry, who each had three hits and three RBI.
The combination of Aidan Major, Maxx Yehl, Chris Sleeper and Jake Carr allowed just one hit in 3 2/3 innings out of WVU’s bullpen.
Canisius starter Tom Peltier was tagged with the loss after allowing two runs in three innings with three strikeouts and two walks.
WVU will play its first series at home this weekend when the Minnesota Golden Gophers come to town for three games. First pitch on Friday is set for 3 p.m. from Mon County Ballpark.
West Virginia 8, Canisius 1
Can 100 000 000 — 1 7 1
WVU 200 014 01x — 8 10 0
C — Peltier lp (3K, 2BB), Consigli (4) (3K, 5BB), Aduddle (5) (0K, 0BB), Kochanski (7) (1K, 2BB), Staerker (8) (0K, 0BB) and Sheridan, Wevers. Strong S, HR, rbi; Kush D.
WVU — Van Kempen wp (8K, 0BB), Major (6) (2K, 1BB), Yehl (7) (1K, 1BB), Sleeper (8) (0K, 1BB), Carr (1K, 0BB) and Leonard, Ramppen. Barry 2S, HR, 3rbi; Wetherholt 2D, HR, 3rbi; McNeely 2S, rbi; Leonard D, rbi; Tucker D.