The top five hitters in WVU's order have produced plenty of offense through the first half of the season, but against the Panthers it was the final four who led the Mountaineers to the victory and a sweep of the season series. The quartet of Justin Fox, Jackson Cramer, Cameron O'Brien and Cody Semler combined for five hits, five RBI and two runs as West Virginia left the Steel City on a high note.
Catcher O'Brien was the star of the game, driving in three runs, including the game-winning pair in the top of the seventh. With the bases loaded and two out, his single to center drove home Ryan McBroom and Fox to give the Mountaineers the lead. Those runs capped a ping-pong evening of scoring, which saw the teams alternate runs in five different innings.
West Virginia (16-8, 2-4) jumped on top early, as tablesetter Bobby Boyd doubled to lead off the game and came around to score on a Billy Fleming groundout and a wild pitch. Two innings later, the Mountaineers set the Panthers (15-12) up with a couple of gifts, and Pitt responded with two runs. An error on a wind-blown fly to left field allowed Stephen Vranka to get aboard, and after a single by Dylan Wolsonovich, a wild pitch and a walk loaded the bases. Casey Roche followed with a two-run single that chased Means, but reliever Pascal Paul got Eric Hess to strike out to end the inning.
It didn't take long for West Virginia to respond, as the Mountaineers put up three runs of their own in the fourth to retake the lead at 4-2. Jacob Rice and Shaun Wood led off the inning by getting aboard via a HBP and a walk, and designated hitter Cramer then drove in Rice on a grounder that was ruled a fielder's choice. O'Brien then doubled to right to drive home Wood, and Semler completed the scoring with a suicide squeeze that brought Cramer home. WVU was hurt in the inning by two pop-ups on bunt attempts, and left two runners on.
The back and forth rallies continued in the fifth, and this time it was the Panthers' turn to respond. After the first two Pitt batters went down easily, a single and a pair of doubles drove in back-to-back runs to tie the score.
One inning later, O'Brien made a huge defensive play.. With two Panthers aboard and no outs, O'Brien snared a pop-up of a bunt attempt and fired to second to catch Manny Pazos off the bag. That allowed WVU to escape the inning still tied, and set the stage for O'Brien's game winner.
The wind was also a huge factor in the game, as it wreaked havoc with any ball hit in the air. Tracking the ball and catching it was a consistent problem, and both teams got hits on balls that would have been outs on a calmer day.
Bobby Boyd added three hits to the West Virginia attack, which totaled 11 on the evening. Pitt managed ten, led by Roche's 3-5 performance.
WVU used four pitchers on the day, and while they weren't overwhelming, made big pitches in key situations to get out of trouble. John Means, who missed his normal weekend start when a game against Baylor was cancelled, pitched 2.2 innings and allowed two runs (one earned) before yielding to Pascal Paul. Paul gave up two baserunners while getting four outs, then was relieved by Michael Bennett. Bennett wasn't as sharp as he had been in his last two outings, throwing 50 pitches in 2.2 innings of work while allowing two runs. Corey Walter got the final seven outs of the game, striking out two against two hits.
WVU travels to Fort Worth to take on TCU (15-12, 2-4) in a three-game weekend series beginning Friday, Apr. 4 at 7:30 p.m. The Mountaineers' three weekend starters (Harrison Musgrave, Sean Carley and Means) are the expected pitchers.