MORGANTOWN — For nearly two hours, West Virginia huddled safely in its locker room while its NCAA Regional elimination game against Texas A&M was delayed by lightning in the area.
But, who knew that the biggest bolt of lightning would strike them dead in the ninth inning, flashing out of the sky in the form of the most dramatic home run in Texas A&M history and the most devastating in the history of Mountaineer baseball.
With one swing of his bat, Bryce Blaum vaulted the Aggies into a Sunday game against Duke in which they have a chance to prolong their season. With one swing of his bat, Blaum ended what well may have been the greatest season in West Virginia’s 127-year baseball history.
The walk-off grand slam came on a full count with two outs and the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth inning and delivered the final touches on an incredible comeback. The grand slam completed Texas A&M’s comeback from a 9-1 deficit in the seventh inning to record a nearly impossible 11-10 victory.
The hit came at the expense of Sam Kessler, the West Virginia closer, who deserved a better fate. The Mountaineers also committed four errors in the game while walking eight Texas A&M batters.
In the end, however, was a six-run marathon — built around yet another grand slam by Logan Foster — in the seventh inning that got the Aggies back into the game and made possible West Virginia’s ninth-inning collapse.
As the home run soared over the fence, the crowd of 3,788 fans fell silent — save for the Texas A&M fans on hand — while Mountaineer players literally dropped to their knees with blank looks on their faces.
Coach Randy Mazey, however, refused to consider the outcome a defeat, even if it did end his season with 38 victories and 22 losses. He knows it won’t go in the books as such, but he refuses to let one blurred moment in time destroy all that he and his team had accomplished.
“All I can do is treat this like a win,” Mazey said. “Big picture, I think this is a win. You can’t let one game, one pitch or one inning overshadow what our program has accomplished and how far we’ve come and what we’ve done.
“I’m not going to do that. I’m not going to let one inning of baseball or one game dictate my feeling about West Virginia baseball, because I couldn’t be prouder of anybody in that locker room.”
“Everybody on that team had a lot to do with us being here. You guys have been around, some of you longer than I have,” Mazey said to the media. “This may go down as the greatest team that West Virginia baseball has ever put together. So, how could you let one pitch, or one at bat, or one inning overshadow what this group of kids has accomplished? I’m not going to do that.”
“Despite the hard loss, we were talking in the locker room together about how we feel like we made out mark on this program,” said Darius Hill, a senior. “Despite all of the tough times and everything that may have gone wrong, I think the positives outweigh anything that ever went wrong for us.
“Myself, (senior catcher) Ivan (Gonzalez), (senior infielder Andrew) Zitel, (redshirt senior left-handed pitcher) Zach Reid, all the older guys on the team. It’s tough knowing that today’s the last day, but I think looking back in a couple of weeks from now, I think it’s something we’ll look back on with some happiness and not sadness.”
West Virginia had been set up for victory.
There was an eight-run lead behind a pair of freshmen pitchers, Ryan Berget and Zach Ottinger, but WVU’s inability to make some routine plays caught up. Add in a grand slam — or two — and suddenly elation turned to deflation.
“Any time you get up 9-1, you have a lot of confidence that you’re about to win the game,” Hill said. “(Give) credit to (Texas) A&M. They never gave up. They got a lot of big hits when they needed to. Ultimately, they got the biggest hit of the day.”
That, of course, was the Blaum grand slam in the ninth. The hit came shortly after Mazey made a trip to the mound for a talk with Kessler. Mazey, however, refused to disclose what the two talked about, wanting to leave those details between the two of them.
“(Blaum) got a good pitch to hit and did what you’re supposed to do on those balls,” Hill said. “It was good for him, bad for us. I think it was a hanging slider, and he hit it over the tall wall.”
While the hit ended Hill’s college career, he knows his final season was productive. Mazey can also see the big picture: The year ended on a winning note.
“This program will never be the same,” Hill said. “It’s no longer an afterthought; it’s no longer a school that everyone can say, ‘We’re going to beat West Virginia this weekend.’ We’re here to play.
“The guys that are coming in, the guys that are here are high-level players that can compete with anyone in the country, and I think we proved that over the past few weeks. Even though we didn’t win all the time, I think we’re in a place now that this program is really going to go to new heights.”
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter at @bhertzel.