Down early, the West Virginia Mountaineers (1-2) came all the way back, but ultimately lost a heartbreaker tonight in the final game of the Atlanta Challenge, as they fell 5-4 to the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (2-1) in 11 innings.
The Yellow Jackets made just enough plays in Saturday night’s game to snatch a win from the Mountaineers’ arms.
In the first inning, Georgia Tech catcher Kyle McCann hit a 2-run homer to right field putting the Yellow Jackets up 2-0 early. Then, in the bottom of the 2nd, DH Michael Guldberg got jammed, but got enough of the ball to hit a blooper just beyond the pitcher’s mound to score Colin Hall from 3rd and make it 3-0 Yellow Jackets.
WVU starting pitcher Kade Strowd (0-0) settled down after that and didn’t allow any more runs in his first outing of the year. Coach Mazey went to Zach Reid in the bullpen after just 4.1 innings by Strowd, but the Yellow Jackets were able to touch Reid for a run in the bottom of the 6th on a double play ball that made it 4-0 Georgia Tech.
After not being able to do anything with Yellow Jacket starting pitcher Connor Thomas (0-0) through 6 innings, things started to turn around for the Mountaineers in the 7th.
In the top of the inning, WVU got third baseman Andrew Zitel on board with a 1-out walk and after pinch-hitter TJ Lake hit a single back up the middle to put runners on 1st and 2nd with two outs, pinch-hitter Kevin Brophy hit a sharp grounder that couldn’t be handled to third baseman Oscar Serratos which started a series of sloppy plays by the Yellow Jackets. Georgia Tech committed two errors on the play (5 total in the game), which allowed both Zitel and Lake to score and bring to Mountaineers to within 2 runs. Then, second baseman Tyler Doanes hit a double to right center field that brought Brophy in to score and close the gap to 4-3 Yellow Jackets.
After freshmen relief pitchers Zach Ottinger and Phillip Dull threw a scoreless bottom of the inning, first baseman Marques Inman crushed a 1-0 fastball to straightaway centerfield that tied the game up at 4 runs apiece.
Coach Mazey went to his closer, Sam Kessler in the bottom of the 8th, looking to slam the door on Georgia Tech. Kessler did his job, shutting down the Yellow Jackets in both the 8th and 9th inning, sending this game to extra innings. In the 10th inning, he threw another scoreless frame, flawlessly getting through the heart of the Georgia Tech lineup.
In the top of the 11th, catcher Ivan Gonzalez and shortstop Tristen Hudson had consecutive ground balls to 3rd baseman Oscar Serratos, who committed errors on each play, putting runners on 2nd and 3rd with just 1 out. However, back-to-back strikeouts by Brandon White and TJ Lake ended the inning, and stranded the go-ahead runs in scoring position.
In the bottom of the 11th, right fielder Colin Hall hit a 1-out double down the left-field line and then advanced to third on an infield single by shortstop Austin Wilhite. Coach Mazey elected to intentionally walk pinch-hitter Cole Neuber to load the bases with one out, and center fielder Nick Wilhite made him pay. On a 2-2 pitch from true freshman reliever Beau Lowery, Wilhite hit a hard single through the 3rd base-SS gap to bring home Hall and win the game 5-4 for the Yellow Jackets.
The Mountaineers conclude their opening weekend with a loss, falling to 1-2 on the young season. Both losses have been nail-biters, so you can bet in the week ahead Coach Mazey will be preaching to his group that they need to play more sound baseball. In Saturday’s finale, the Mountaineers struck out 18 times and came up with just 6 hits.
The Mountaineers will be back in action on Friday, Feb. 22nd as they open a 3 game series in Statesboro, Georgia against Georgia Southern University. Check back in to The Smoking Musket on Thursday for a series preview.
As always: Let’s go, Mountaineers!