GRANVILLE — All of a sudden, West Virginia is getting pretty good at walk-off wins.
More to the point, J.J. Wetherholt continues to be pretty good in any situation.
It all added up to the WVU second baseman hitting a double to the gap in left-center with one out in the bottom of the ninth inning to lift the No. 24 Mountaineers to a 5-4 victory against Xavier on Friday at Mon County Ballpark.
Pinch runner Tre Keels scored easily from second base to hand WVU (17-5) its 11th win over its last 12 games.
It also came just two days after Sam White hit a game-winning single in the bottom of the 10th inning that gave the Mountaineers a walk-off win against Hofstra.
The only difference for Wetherholt, who had three hits on the day to raise his Big 12-leading batting average to .456, was he moved up a spot in WVU’s batting order to leadoff against Xavier (10-11).
WVU manager Randy Mazey, “gave me a heads up (Thursday) after practice,” Wetherholt said. “I actually grew up a lead-off hitter since I was six or seven years old. My freshman year in high school, I worked my way up to the lead-off spot. I haven’t done it in a while, so I had to go back to some earlier memories.”
Hitting against Xavier lefty reliever Justin Loer, Wetherholt laced the first pitch to the gap.
His previous at-bat against Loer went an entirely different way, with Wetherholt chasing a pitch out of the zone for a strikeout.
“That guy got him the first time and made him look pretty bad,” Mazey said. “It’s hard to do that to a really good hitter twice. I liked the way that was going there.”
Just getting to the ninth was interesting, but that’s generally the case with any walk-off win.
WVU reliever Carlson Reed allowed a run in the eighth that tied the game 4-4, and then got Xavier shortstop Jack Housinger to fly out in the ninth with two runners on to end that rally.
WVU’s Ellis Garcia singled to begin the bottom of the ninth and Keels came in to pinch run for him. Logan Sauve struck out and Tevin Tucker walked, setting up Wetherholt’s game-winning hit.
Having already been intentionally walked six times this season, Mazey said he wasn’t surprised Xavier manager Billy O’Conner elected to pitch to Wetherholt in the ninth.
“It would never surprise me if somebody didn’t pitch to him, no matter what the situation was,” Mazey said. “It’s tough. If you walk him there, then you now have a guy at third base and a wild pitch wins the game. It’s a lot harder to go 180 feet than 90 feet.”
As for Wetherholt, he said he simply had to forget about his previous at-bat against Loer.
“I was a little bit shook, because I didn’t see the pitch as well,” Wetherholt said. “I usually don’t chase pitches like that, and that one was really bad. It was lefty on lefty, I wasn’t really seeing it too well.
“When it came my time to swing again, I just had to erase it. I have to see it well now.”
He also added two singles earlier in the game for his 13th multi-hit game of the season. His game-winning RBI was his 27th of the season and Wetherholt has now hit safely in 21 of WVU’s 22 games.
“These last two games have been a snap back into reality,” Wetherholt said of the walk-off wins. “We’d been putting up so many runs and our pitchers had barely been giving up any. That’s not always going to happen. With conference play starting next week, we need games like this. This is when you find out how good we are. Can we win these close games?”
Nevada transfer Landon Wallace hit a two-run homer in the fourth inning to give WVU a 3-1 lead. Wallace and Kevin Dowdell each had two hits on the day.
Reed (2-0) picked up the win in relief of starter Ben Hampton, who gave up three runs over seven innings. Hampton also struck out seven and waked just one.
The second game of the three-game series is scheduled for 4 p.m. Saturday, with the third game on Sunday scheduled for 1 p.m.