In what could be a huge RPI win come tournament time, the Mountaineers (11-6) got a stellar pitching performance from starter John Means, timely hitting, aggressive baserunning and error-free defense to knock off the homestanding Tar Heels (14-6), who were ranked anywhere from 12th to 17th in various national rankings.
The Mountaineers admittedly had something of an advantage in the starting pitching match-up, as head coach Randy Mazey sent weekend starter Means to the mound, while the Tar Heels held their top three in reserve. Still, UNC wasn't exactly putting noodle arms up against WVU, as it featured Luis Paula, who sported a 1-0 record in three starts and a 1.42 ERA, in the starting slot.
The two starters were unscathed through the first four innings. Paula did allow a pair of hits and two walks, but shut down both threats to keep the Mountaineers off the board. Means allowed just one baserunner when he hit Wood Myers with a pitch in the first, but erased that mistake with a double play.
West Virginia broke the skein of scoreless innings in the top of the fifth after leaving two runners aboard in the fourth. DH Max Nogay was hit by a pitch, and moved to second on a failed pickoff attempt. Taylor Munden then ripped a shot to third that was too hot to handle, putting runners at the corners with one out. Munden then stole second to remove the possibility of a double play, a move that proved to be key when Bobby Boyd grounded to second to drive in Nogay. Billy Fleming then produced with two outs, driving a hit to left field to score Munden.
Meanwhile, Means continued to shine. A 1-2-3 fifth was followed by UNC's first hit of the game in the sixth, but he produced a strikeout and a groundout to end the inning. UNC finally got on the board in the seventh, when one of Means' few mistakes, a wild pitch, put Michael Russell in scoring position at second. Adam Pate then drove a ball deep to left that scored Russell, cutting the lead to 2-1.
As it has in most games this season, however, WVU batters kept grinding. Ryan McBroom boomed his own double over the heads of the North Carolina outfield, moved to third on a groundout, then saw Michael Constantini move into scoring position behind him with a walk and a steal. Justin Fox then smacked the biggest hit of the game, a single back up the middle that scored both Mountaineers to push the lead to 4-1.
At this point, UNC's only hope seemed to be to get Means out of the game, but it couldn't stress him in the bottom of the eighth. Means retired three batters on five pitches, leaving no doubt that he would return for the ninth. WVU made things a bit easier for him in the top of the ninth when Billy Fleming and Bobby Boyd teamed up for the umpteenth time this year to produce a run. Boyd singled, move to second on a wild pitch, then flew home on Fleming's hit to right. Means then went 1-2-3 again on the Tar Heels' final at-bat to nail down the win.
Other than the blip in the seventh, Means was almost perfect. He allowed just three runs and struck out five. He did not walk a batter, and showed pinpoint control throughout.
WVU hitters produced five runs and nine hits against a UNC staff that sported a team ERA of 2.35 coming in to the contest. Fleming was 2-3 with two RBI and reached base four times in bedeviling the Tar Heel staff. Fox produced two hits and two RBI, while Ryan McBroom was 3-4 on the day.
West Virginia also aided Means' cause by producing an errorless day in the field.
WVU heads for the coast for a three-game series with UNC Wilmington beginning on Friday. The Mountaineers will face the Seahawks on Friday at 6:00 p.m., Saturday at 2:00 p.m. and Sunday at 1:00 p.m.