MORGANTOWN — The sun will rise on Monday morning, but the darkness that settled after Sunday’s game surely will remain over this college city.
West Virginia lost a baseball game it couldn’t lose. The Mountaineers put the worst exclamation point possible on a season that should have ended with a smiley face, a year in which they won 38 games, a year when the brought an NCAA Regional to Morgantown for the first time since 1955.
There was so much success and so much happiness along the way, yet it ended in horror.
West Virginia led 9-1 as late as the seventh inning of this NCAA Regional elimination game against Texas A&M, and yet somehow, it checked out, playing uncharacteristically badly by committing four errors, walking eight batters and serving up a pair — yes, two — of grand slams. The last one, by Bryce Blaum, came on a 3-2 pitch — the last pitch Sam Kessler would throw this season — with two outs.
As the broadcasters might have said, “It’s high, it’s deep, it’s .... oh, my goodness”.
The crowd went silent, and the Mountaineer players went limp, with some even dropping to the ground. If this were a movie it would have been named “The Unnatural,” or “Field of Screams.”
To add to the surreal nature of the moment, it took six hours to reach a decision due in part to the one-hour and 56-minute rain delay. Worse yet, the loss happened on the Mountaineers home field — a field they fought so hard to get to host a regional. Yet, here they were — due to an absolutely ridiculous NCAA rule — playing the role of visitor.
You earn a national seed and the right to have the game played in your park, yet you do not have the advantage that comes with batting last because the rules say to alternate home team and when both teams have been visitors or home teams in the prior game. So much at stake, and it comes down to a coin flip.
Time heals all wounds, they say, but the scab left behind by this particular wound will take a long while to go away. The Mountaineers, however, are tough and used to this kind of thing.
Need I say Pitt in 2007? Need I say Notre Dame in 1988, Duke in the 2010 Final Four, and Texas in the Sweet 16 NCAA Tournament in 2006 when Kenton Paulino threw a 3 in on top of Kevin Pittsnogle’s tying 3 with five seconds to play? You can throw in the Elite Eight basketball loss to Louisville, too, if you want.
It’s an endless video loop. West Virginia has won more football games than any team that has not won a national championship title. It’s women’s soccer team got to an NCAA final, but lost.
All of that disappointment. Now, this.
This is not to say WVU would have had a shot at winning the NCAA baseball championship this season. The Mountaineers might not even have had enough left in the tank to beat Duke in the day’s second elimination game.
But they would have liked to have tried, especially when they were sitting on that 9-1 advantage. Watching that eight-run advantage evaporate, however, tugged at the heartstrings.
A pitch here, a pitch there. A checked swing that would have been strike three, but it was called a ball.
I’m not saying that there was any conspiracy in this game, especially after coach Randy Mazey got evicted from Saturday’s game against due after a run-in with the umpires. That’s just baseball: a pitch on or off the corner by an inch or so can go either way.
While you remember the wins, you don’t remember them as well as the losses. When and when that loss comes on a two-out, full count, grand slam in the bottom of the ninth, you remember every little thing for life.
Well, Mazey has to earn his pay now. He has to nurse his team back to mental health, rebuild its confidence, and try to get them to understand that, although the day may have been a crushing blow, the season was an overall success. The past is the past, and it can’t be changed.
You live for today and covet the future, for even the worst of times serve a purpose. They make you stronger, they make you understand that even when dreams die, you can create new ones and the only way to move forward is to chase them until they come true.
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter at @bhertzel.