By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
Catcher Cam O’Brien made a bid at becoming only the second West Virginia University player to hit for the cycle as the Mountaineers jumped on Marshall early and routed their in-state rival, 10-3, behind strong pitching from Corey Walter and a pair of relievers.
O’Brien, riding a hot streak that has seen him go 7-for-14 in the past three games, doubled, tripled, walked and singled in his first four trips to the plate but struck out on three pitches in the eighth with a chance to join Bob Spangler as the only WVU players to ever hit for the cycle.
Spangler accomplished the feat in 1998 in a rather ridiculous 34-4 victory over Coppin State.
Walter, winning for the first time this season to go with four defeats, probably pitched his way into the mid-week rotation for the rest of this season.
“That’s the best Corey Walter has pitched all year,” WVU Coach Randy Mazey said.
The Mountaineers have now won four of their last five games after losing seven straight as they try to make a late push into contention for an NCAA spot. They stand at 21-16 for the season.
“When we lost six, seven in a row we kept our heads up. We stayed proud. Your true colors show up when things go bad,” Mazey said.
Marshall sent eight pitchers to the mound but could not stop WVU, which now has had 18, 16 and 12 hits in the last three games. One of those pitchers, Sam Hunter, threw only one pitch.
The Herd opened with Lance Elder, a pitcher who had missed last year and had not gone more than four innings this season, and he got off to a rocky start.
The Mountaineers got to him for a first-inning run when Big 12 leading hitter Bobby Boyd hustled a single into a one-out double, moved to third on a wild pitch and scored when Ryan McBroom muscled a fast ball that jammed him over the infield and into left field for an RBI.
It was a significant RBI, too, the 150th of his West Virginia career.
The second inning matters got out of hand after Cam O’Brien opened with a double followed by a one-out walk to Michael Constantini and an infield single by Taylor Munden loaded the bases.
WVU would fail to get another hit in the inning but all three runners on base would score, O’Brien when Boyd worked a walk, Constantini when Billy Fleming was hit by a pitch and Munden on a sacrifice fly by McBroom to make it 4-0.
Elder exited after two innings, Marshall turning the game over to Chase Foster, who was victimized by an unearned run that was built off a triple by the red-hot O’Brien and a two-out error on Constantini’s infield ground ball, giving WVU a 5-0 lead.
Marshall used aggressive baserunning to get back into the game in the fourth inning, the flood gate opening on Walter’s first walk to TJ Diffendorfer, which was followed by a single from Chase Vogelbach, which sent Diffendorfer to third.
Then, with two out, catcher Matt Reed blooped an RBI single to but seeing Boyd nonchalant the ball in center, juggling it as he picked it up, Reed continued to second base safely. Next Eric Escobar singled off third-baseman Constantini’s glove and even though the ball barely trickled into the outfield, not only Vogelbach scored but Reed kept running and scored from second to cut it to 5-3.
WVU needed to answer and did against one of its former players, Caleb Ross, who came in and off reliever Ryan Hopkins.
Hopkins then threw a wild pitch and when catcher Reed threw the ball into left field Constantini trotted home and the Mountaineer need was up to 8-3.
Walter took it through seven innings for the Mountaineers, pitching a tidy game. Other than the three-run fourth inning, he was in control, giving up only seven hits and a pair of walks to go with three strikeouts.
The Mountaineers reached double figures scoring for the second straight game by adding two in the eighth on Brad Johnson’s two-run single, taking any suspense of the game at 10-3.
All that was left was O’Brien’s final at bat. Already possessing a single, double and triple, along with a walk, the catcher took a shot at hitting for the cycle but struck out swinging on three pitchers.
Marshall Bennett and Ryan Hostrander pitched the final two innings of the victory, but it wasn’t eventful as shortstop Ryan Munden left with a hand injury.
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.