Mountaineers’ Run Ends With Super Regional Sweep | News, Sports, Jobs – Wheeling Intelligencer

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Jun 10, 2024
Photo Provided West Virginia baseball coach Randy Mazey looks on from the dugout during a Super Regional game against North Carolina. (Photo Provided)
Randy Mazey’s dream of leading the West Virginia Mountaineers to a College World Series came to an end in a taut, tense, tingling 2-1 loss to North Carolina in the Super Regional Saturday night.
That gave the Tar Heels a two-game sweep of the best-of-three series and a final record at home of 36-3, but each game had a harrowing ending. The first game was won, 8-6, Friday on a walk-off home run by Vance Honeycutt who had a huge hand in the second-game victory as he hit a leadoff home run, scored the second run after beating out a bunt single and made a couple of dazzling plays in the outfield.
“That was a pretty hard-fought 18 innings right there,” Mazey said after the game. “I don’t know they expected that out of the Mountaineers.”
With all that went on over the two days, the series ended with the tying run 90 feet from home plate and the winning run at second as Ben Lumsden came up inches short as he sprawled diving head-first in the dirt on a bouncer to the Tar Heel first baseman, whose flip to pitcher Dalton Pence barely beat him to the base.
“He’s one of the best relievers in the country,” Mazey said of Pence. “For our guys to battle him the way they did in that inning with the season on the line, to not swing at some breaking balls just out of the zone, to get their swings off.
“We said we were playing with house money but that doesn’t mean it’s OK to lose. It means when you play you can play more relaxed. I thought we did. I don’t think there was a doubt in that dugout we were going to win that game the whole time.
“The closer we got, there was more energy. That was pretty cool.”
West Virginia, which finished 36-24 for the season, had a heroic pitching effort from starter and loser Tyler Switalski and reliever Carson Estridge. Switalski pitched 6.1 innings giving up two runs on five hits with a walk and four strikeouts while Estridge turned in a spectacular 2.2 innings of hitless relief while striking out six.
“This guy, Switalski, that’s the best he’s pitched as a Mountaineer and to do that on this stage …,” Mazey said, not finishing the thought.
“I came out with complete confidence in myself,” Switalski said. “I wasn’t going to let anything scare me; just make sure I was ready from the time I got to the field and the time I got the ball in my hand. Just go out and play the game.”
But even Estridge’s ability to strike out Honeycutt with the bases loaded to end the seventh, giving WVU a chance to pull this one out wasn’t enough as freshman starter Jason Decaro and Pence baffled them throughout.
The Mountaineers managed only four hits in the game.
All-American shortstop JJ Wetherholt, playing what almost certainly was his last game as a Mountaineer, finished his career with an 0-4 night, narrowly missing an early home run and striking out on his final at bat.
“It’s been awesome,” Wetherholt said of his time at WVU. “It’s been the best three years of my life. I want to thank Coach for believing in me, my teammates for pushing me and making me the player I am today.
“I wanted to win this one so bad, but that’s the way it is sometimes. All I can say is thank you to everybody.”
It was the Tar Heel superstar centerfielder who had laid claim to the series. After hitting the final pitch of Friday night’s Carolina victory for a two-run walk-off home run, he hit the first pitch of this game for a walk-on, if there is such a thing, home run off Switalski, for a 1-0 lead.
“Honeycutt’s a great player and first pitch I got a little too much of the zone,” Switalski said. “I had to dial it back in and keep competing. I feel I turned it around after that.”
As if the baseball gods were delivering a message, WVU’s own superstar, Wetherholt, led off the bottom of the first – WVU was the home team for this second game – and hit one high and deep toward right that had everyone holding their breath.
But, unlike Honeycutt’s ball that just barely cleared the left-field wall, Wetherholt’s fly ball was caught at the base of the right field wall.
It started with WVU frustrated and ended the same way.
Honeycutt had hit the last two pitches he had seen out of the park when he came up with two out and no one on in the third, Carolina still ahead, 1-0.
Now the outfielders were back further and Switalski knew the danger he presented, so he tried to throw Honeycutt’s rhythm off with a changeup..
Honeycutt, however, completely crossed WVU up with a two out bunt single, displaying not his power this time but his speed as he just outran the ball to first base.
Two batters later he had scored the game’s second run, having been followed by singles from Casey Cook and Parks Harber to drive him home.
So, Honeycutt had shown off his power, his speed, his bunting ability and he was about to put to rest a potential WVU rally in the fourth when Sam White drew a leadoff walk.
Mazey thought he’d push the issue and had White running on a 1-2 pitch to Reed Chumley. Chumley made the mistake of hitting a fly ball to centerfield, which is patrolled by Honeycutt, the ACC Defensive Player of the Year.
He alertly made the catch and then fired a strike back to first base to double the sliding White off to put an end to any thoughts of a rally.
Honeycutt proved that he was, indeed, human in the seventh with a chance to break the game open.
When Switalski gave up a one-out single and walk, Mazey relieved him with Carson Estridge, who struck out Alex Madera but hit Chad Wilkerson with a pitch to load the bases for Honeycutt. The count went to 2-2 and everyone was on their feet as Estridge knew he was miking the biggest pitch of his career.
Honeycutt had to be looking fastball but Estridge unleashed a slow curve, just 70 miles an hour, that Honeycutt swung through to end the threat.
Time was running short on WVU, who came to bat in the seventh inning with just one hit – a single by Brodie Kresser – off 18-year-old freshman Jason Decaro.
The inning started tamely with a strikeout, but Reed Chumley singled off the third baseman’s glove, sending coach Scott Forbes to the mound. Decaro tried to talk him into staying, but he had his top reliever Dalton Pence hot and ready and sent the freshman out to a loud ovation.
The left-handed Pence faced the left-handed swinging Grant Hussey, who struck out, and then, on a 3-2 pitch that narrowly missed on the outside corner Spencer Barnett walked to move Chumley into scoring position.
WVU had to strike now and Kyle West, WVU’s offensive star from the series’ first game, slashed a single to left to drive in the Mountaineer run and make it a 2-1 game entering the eighth.
And so it remained until WVU had one final shot at Pence. Sammy White led off the bottom of the ninth with a single to right field and gave way to pinch runner Armani Guzman. After a strikeout, Garcia moved to second on a wild pitch, but there was another strikeout, taking WVU down to its final out.
Kyle West, who broke out of a long, deep slump with a big night in the opening game defeat, worked a walk to load the bases for Lumsden.
Unfortunately, even though Mazey used three pinch runners in the inning, he could not allow anyone to run for Lumsden to first and despite his desperation head-first slide he arrived just late.
The Tar Heels went into a wild victory celebration as they head to their 13th College World Series, piling upon each other in the middle of the infield while the Mountaineers simply packed up and got ready to head home.
“These moments in college baseball. I don’t know if you can duplicate them anywhere,” Mazey said. “Look at how happy they are, how sad we are. These kids in the West Virginia program will remember the feeling watching the other team dog pile and that kind of stuff drives you.
“It drives you from the first day of fall practice next year … but they are going to have to drive without ol’ Coach Maze.”
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