WVU Baseball Battles returns to take Cambria Classic GM 1 over Minnesota, 5-4

At US Bank Stadium, home of the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings, the #25 West Virginia Mountaineer baseball team fought back to pull Game 1 of the 2022 Cambria Classic out of the clutches of the Minnesota Golden Gophers for a 5-4 victory .

In the first time WVU (6-2) has played Minnesota (3-7) since 2012, the action-packed encounter, starting in the first set.

WVU took the field armed with second-year right-handed pitcher Carlson Reed, while the Golden Gophers sent right-handed pitcher Sam Ireland to throw out the first pitch.

Ireland shut down WVU when it needed to, blocking two climbers in goalscoring position and quickly giving his side a chance.

The number three hitter, receiver Chase Stanke, proved his worth with a solo bomb to left center field with two outs to put the first run on the board.

WVU also couldn’t add a run in the second inning, opting to block another batter (sophomore left fielder Braden Barry) in the second.

Reed came out of the bottom of the second set in quick work, but the damage had already been done.

In another attempt to get started, the Mountaineers, powered by first-year third baseman JJ Wetherholt and second DH McGwire Holbrook, spent the third inning putting runners into the corners, but even with a stolen second base at Holbrook, a mirror of his first inning, WVU both failed to close out the third.

Talk about closing the third. Reed followed with a 1-2-3 inning, ending Minnesota‘s entire offense.

The Mountaineers also played a very conservative fourth inning; a walk from Barry and an ensuing stolen base landed a mountaineer on the way to base, but hopes of advancement were dashed when Tevin Tucker flew to center field for the inning final. Barry became WVU’s sixth runner stuck in scoring position. When Reed took over the mound, head coach Randy Mazey immediately wished at least one of those players had gone home.

Four batters in the fourth inning, senior redshirt Easton Bertrand sent a hard-hit single down the right field line that scored Stanke from the first for the Golden Gophers’ second inning. Reed took the Mountaineers out of deficit three batters later, but tensions were high. When Reed needed his team’s bats to warm up, however, they delivered; specifically, Holbrook in the cleaning place.

With two out, Holbrook skied a home run to center field and brought Wetherholt home from first base with him. In one pitch, the Mountaineers had the game tied at 2-2.

He looked as solid as Reed was in stopping action, the Minnesota bats were just slightly hotter. With one out and runners in the corners, head coach Randy Mazey replaced Reed with right-handed pitcher Noah Short, who then charged after hitting Stanke. An out and short under control, the redshirt junior caused back-to-back midfield fly-outs to close out the inning and block Minnesota’s three base runners.

The Golden Gopher batters were back again in the sixth, but they faced right-handed pitcher Zach Ottinger. Unfortunately for the eldest, he was no match for Bertrand, who took his ground for a home run inside the park. The 3-2 score was about to get worse when Ottinger was immediately pulled and replaced for fifth-year right-hander Chase Smith.

Smith couldn’t find a way to soften the onslaught, allowing a stolen base and running Perry to a full count with one out. A throwing error from Mountaineer second baseman Mikey Kluska allowed senior Andrew Wilhite to score from second, and Minnesota’s lead increased.

Smith was then taken out, allowing fifth-year right-handed pitcher Trey Braithwaite to step onto the mound. He pulled the climbers out of a sticky-base laden situation, securing the final with a pitch from Stanke to Kluska in second.

When the Mountaineers took the field for the seventh inning, the momentum seemed to change. It was the first time in the 2022 season that WVU had headed to the final innings, and Mazey wasn’t going to allow that.

The Golden Gophers knocked out Ireland after six innings pitched, six hits, two runs, eight Ks and 27 batters faced, and that was just what the Mountaineers needed. In his place came right-handed first-year pitcher Sam Malec. The WVU roster made quick work of him, quickly moving senior right fielder Austin Davis up to third and beating him at home with a long single to center field from Victor Scott. The gap narrowed again three batters later.

Pinched runners came for WVU. A single handed Holbrook to left field sent Scott to third, and the Mountaineers followed it up with second Ben Abernathy, to pinch the run for Holbrook, stolen base. Then second Nathan Blasick hit for freshman first baseman Grant Hussey, and a right-hand single sent Scott home with the tying run.

That 4-4 scoreline remained consistent for the remainder of the seventh and eighth innings.

Three WVU bats in the final inning, it was junior Kevin Dowdell, in place of Abernathy, who got the go-ahead with a solid single across the gap from right field to score Wetherholt from the second and secure the WVU’s seventh win of 2022, 5-4. Right-handed junior pitcher Jacob Watters came out to close, relieving left-handed senior pitcher Beau Lowery after 0.1 innings in critical time. Lowery got the win and Watters the stoppage, after shutting down Minnesota’s last team in 1-2-3 mode.

WVU proved their national No. 25 ranking in stolen bases with eight more tonight, but the base path wasn’t without error; nine stranded runners is a problem Mazey will have to deal with heading into the final two games of the Cambria Classic. Play resumes tomorrow when the Mountaineers face Illinois at 4 p.m.

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