By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
The magic lives for West Virginia’s baseball team.
Trailing by two runs heading into the bottom of the ninth inning, their four-game winning streak nothing but a flickering flame about to go out, the Mountaineers rallied for three runs and a 6-5 victory over Kansas State.
The victory gave them the series and a chance to sweep when they play the third and final game at Hawley Field at 1 p.m. today.
There were any number of heroes, some in the ninth inning when designated hitter Jackson Cramer drew a leadoff walk taking a close 3-2 pitch, followed by catcher Charlie O’Brien narrowly missing a home run that put the tying runs in scoring position and then Bobby Boyd driving in the tying run with a sacrifice fly and Ryan Fleming wasting no time, hitting the first pitch he saw for a game-winning chopper that drove in the winning run.
Earlier, though, there was left-hander John Means recovering from a shaky start to pitch two outs into the seventh inning and a strong relief job from winner Ryan Tezak.
“We kind of got them together in the 8th inning and said, ‘Let’s play to win,’” coach Randy Mazey said.
And that was just what they did, although the stage for the victory may have been set early when Kansas State coach Brad Hill made an nearly inexplicable decision.
Means really had nothing as he started the game, the first three hitters singling for a run with runners at first and second, no one out. Up was the designated hitter and cleanup hitter with a chance to break the game open.
Instead of playing for a big inning, Hill called for a sacrifice bunt, which worked but instead of a big inning Means, being given an out when he couldn’t get one on his own, settled in and worked out of the jam with no further damage.
From that point on, Means struggled but was given enough wiggle room to work out the problem.
“He was keeping it down better after the fourth,” said O’Brien, the catcher. “He had to get his changeup established so I just called one after another until he worked it out.”
That gave him a pitch to keep the Wildcat hitters off balance, setting the stage for the ninth-inning rally.
Cramer’s walk ignited things, getting the torrid O’Brien to the plate.
“I knew after walking him they’d throw me a fastball,” O’Brien said. “They’d been throwing me fastballs all weekend and jamming me with it, so I tried to adjust.”
Adjust he did and he wound up with the only hit in the three-run inning.
By winning West Virginia continued its push for a spot in the NCAA Tournament, a late surge that has been built on clutch hitting and a revived pitching staff that shook off the effects of a seven-game losing streak.
“I had a little meeting with the pitchers after one of those losses,” O’Brien said. “I told them that people were pointing fingers at them but that the problem wasn’t their pitching. We weren’t scoring enough runs and I told them to get some confidence, because we would begin scoring runs.”
And that is just what has happened and now with 13 games left on the schedule they stand at 23-16, 6-7 in the Big 12.
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel