MORGANTOWN — Before West Virginia played Texas Tech in the Big 12 Tournament on Saturday morning, Mountaineer broadcaster Ernie Galusky was calling the game arguably the biggest game in the school’s baseball history.
He would probably have been right ... had they won.
Instead, Texas Tech slapped the Mountaineers around pretty well in a 10-3 victory, which forced a second game later Saturday night — a winner-take-all showdown between two tired teams with their bullpens badly spent and the prize being a trip to the Big 12 final.
So, the biggest game in WVU baseball history shifted to the second game, which almost certainly would give WVU a host spot for an NCAA Regional if the Mountaineers won it.
Randy Mazey, the Mountaineer coach, noted the importance of that in his post-first game interview:
“You like to think if get to the championship game we host a Regional which would change the face of Mountaineer baseball for a long time,” Mazey said. “We feel very deserving of a host spot. We are one of the top 16 teams in the country.”
WVU had its chances early in the opener, but seemed intent on beating itself.
The Mountaineers took a 1-0 lead in the first inning and had runners at second and third with one out when Paul McIntosh hit one right on the nose but the line drive was grabbed in left field Kurt Wilson.
Wilson had just made a throwing error on the previous batter, but this time he made a perfect throw to the play to double up Darius Hill, who was trying to second.
There is a saying in baseball that “walks haunt,” and because of walks WVU wound up not having a ghost of a chance in this one, right from the start when Kade Strowd walked leadoff hitter Gabe Holt, who stole second and scored on a single by Brian Klein.
That would be the first of five walks by Strowd, who also hit two batters, and of 10 walks by WVU pitchers. Six of the walks and hit batters wound up scoring in the game.
The teams traded runs again in the second inning and in the fourth WVU gave Strowd the lead for the third time with TJ Lake’s home run off reliever Ryan Sublette.
Not that anyone should cast any aspersions his way as he wound up the winner and turned the game around. After having pitched only four innings in the past six weeks, he worked 4.1 innings, giving up only two hits and one run while notching his first victory of the season.
Why did Tim Tadlock stay in so long, throwing 70 pitches, far beyond anything he did this year?
“We had an intrasquad game last Thursday and he worked four innings and pitched really well,” he explained.
A bigger question was why Mazey allowed Strowd to come out in the fifth inning with a 3-2 lead. He had little command and while not being hit, he had arrived at 100 pitches. Trying to squeeze an extra inning out of him proved to be a fatal flaw.
Strowd hit the first batter, gave up an RBI double to Klein and then had to face Josh Jung, the Big 12’s Player of the Year.
WVU had handled Jung well all seasons, allowing him one hit in 15 at bats ... but he was facing a tired pitcher in a key situation and was quite overdue. The result was a two-run home run and the game was never the same after that as the Red Raiders poured it on the rest of the way.
And so Mazey spent the late afternoon preparing his team for the second game.
“I told them at the end of the first game, ‘Congratulations, we just tied the score, 0-0,’” Mazey said. “See, we talk about it all the time. The momentum comes back to the losing team in the first game of a doubleheader. We were losing by seven runs five minutes ago. Now we’re even.”
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.