GRANVILLE, W.Va. – Alek Manoah wanted to see and hear the atmosphere before pitching in it.
West Virginia University baseball coach Randy Mazey said as much after the Mountaineers' NCAA Baseball Tournament Regional win over Fordham on Friday night.
“We talked before (Friday’s) game and when he saw the crowd filing in he said, ‘I’m glad I’m not pitching in this first game. I needed to see this first before I pitched in it so I know what to expect,’” Mazey said.
Nothing Manoah could have witnessed would have even prepared him for the third inning Saturday night.
With multiple replays extending the inning, ejections to Mazey and a fan that climbed atop the West Virginia dugout and held onto protective netting to yell at the umpires, it all unraveled for the Mountaineers in a 4-0 loss to No. 3-seed Duke in a winners’ bracket game at Monongalia County Ballpark.
“I thought we got a little bit outside ourselves,” said West Virginia assistant coach Steve Sabins. “It was like we couldn’t get our footing early on because it was so choppy.”
The exasperating loss drops West Virginia (38-21) to an elimination game against second-seeded Texas A&M today at noon. The Aggies defeated Fordham 11-2 in the first elimination game earlier Saturday. The Mountaineers will need to defeat Texas A&M and win a pair of games against Duke (33-25), the first of two possible games tonight at 6 p.m., to advance to the Super Regionals for the first time in program history.
The madness in the third inning started when Duke’s Erikson Nichols tapped a weak ground ball to the left side of the pitcher’s mound with the bases loaded. Off balance, Manoah fielded the ball and threw home for a force out that at first ended the inning.
However, after a long review, it was determined West Virginia catcher Ivan Gonzalez didn’t have his foot on home plate and the run extended the Blue Devils’ lead to 3-0 and brought a pacing Macey into a face-to-face argument with the umpires, which led to his ejection.
“I definitely thought it was an out,” Gonzalez said. “I thought I had possession and stepped on the plate. The call didn’t go our way and you just have to keep moving forward.”
As the inning continued, Chris Crabtree sent a shallow, run-scoring line drive into center field to give Duke what seemed like an insurmountable 4-0 lead.
“When the play happened (at home plate) I thought (Joey Loperfido) was out,” Duke coach Chris Pollard said. “Any time there is a play at the plate that is an automatic review, if requested. I felt like we had nothing to lose. We got the overturn. The separation we got was big because had we not pushed those two runs across, now every time West Virginia gets a guy on base the tying run is standing at the plate. With this crowd tonight, that would have been even tougher of an environment for our kids to push through.”
The Blue Devils first took an early lead on a scary play in center field in the bottom of the first inning. A deep fly ball sent Mountaineers outfielder Brandon White sprinting for the warning track and the third out. The ball deflected off White’s glove as he dove and collided head-first with the padded wall. He laid motionless for several minutes. A cart was brought onto the field and White received medical attention but remained in the game.
The two-run first inning — the other run scored on a wild pitch — was all Duke starting pitcher Bryce Jarvis needed. Relying mostly on pitches other than his fastball, Jarvis dominated the Mountaineers in his longest outing of the season. In eight innings, he scattered six hits, stranded seven runners on base and struck out 11.
“Offspeed (pitches) have been a big part of my game this year,” Jarvis said. “The changeup has been my favorite pitch for a long time and that’s the best it has felt all season. That was just a big key in keeping guys off balance.”
Manoah battled through six innings but was pulled after reaching 102 pitches. A projected top-15 pick in the first-round of the Major League Baseball draft that starts Monday, Manoah gave up all four runs but had nine strikeouts. He walked four.
“I tried getting the team together in the fourth inning to tell guys to slow down. What we had done up to that point was not working,” Sabins said. “It was a tough game. It was an unusual game. I haven’t been a part of a game like that before. It didn’t go our way tonight.”
Texas A&M 11, Fordham 2:
Hunter Coleman hit a pair of home runs and starting pitcher Asa Lacy dominated with a substantial lead for the entirety as No. 2-seed Texas A&M cruised to an 11-1 victory over fourth-seeded Fordham in an elimination game Saturday afternoon.
Lacy never stepped onto the mound without a lead as the Aggies scored five runs in the first inning and never looked back. Bryce Blaum hit a solo home run to left field and Coleman hit his first homer of the day, a three-run shot to the same part of the ballpark.
Texas A&M (38-22-1) continued to add by scoring at least one run in four of the final six innings, including a two-run home run from Coleman in the seventh, to take a 10-1 lead.
Unlike in the opener against West Virginia, Fordham (38-24) struggled to find offense early against Lacy. The Aggies’ left-handed sophomore surrendered his first hit when Andy Semo singled through the left side of the infield with two outs in the bottom of the fifth inning.
Lacy went seven strong innings, allowed three hits, one run and struck out seven.