GRANVILLE, W.Va. – The record-breaking crowd that piled into the seats at Monongalia County Ballpark were on the edge of them most of the night.
In the bottom of the third inning, when the West Virginia University baseball team showed its first sign of life as a long-awaited host, that same crowd shared the same urgency of the Mountaineers. They stood similar to the fans that crowded the fence high above the first-base line, the ones on the grass hillside beyond the Fordham dugout and those that settled for folding chairs overlooking the ballpark without having to pay for tickets.
As their wildness grew, so did that of Fordham’s sophomore starting pitcher John Stankiewicz.
Rattling the Atlantic 10 Conference Co-Pitcher of the Year, top-seeded West Virginia scored three runs in a raucous third inning and went on to defeat No. 4-seed Fordham, 6-2, in the Mountaineers’ first game as the host for the NCAA Baseball Regional in 64 years before 4,355 fans Friday night.
“Great win,” West Virginia coach Randy Mazey said. “That’s a stadium full of energy tonight from the first pitch to the last. When you have that much energy in the stadium, you are exhausted when it’s over. I know I’m exhausted. I can’t imagine how these guys feel. That was a dogfight.”
The win advances West Virginia (38-20) to a winners’ bracket game at 7 p.m. today against Duke, which defeated Texas A&M in the opener Friday afternoon, 8-5. Fordham (38-23) drops to an elimination game against the Aggies at 2 p.m. today.
The danger of a leadoff single by West Virginia’s TJ Lake looked to be behind Stankiewicz after Lake was caught stealing for the first out in the third. That’s when the real problems began for the pitcher who began the year as a reliever.
Stankiewicz walked No. 9 hitter Tevin Tucker. Tyler Doanes singled through the left side of the infield. One batter later, a wild pitch that handcuffed Rams catcher Justin Bardwell allowed Tucker to race from second all the way to home and tie the game at 1-1. The Mountaineers then took the lead when Doanes high-stepped across home plate on a deep sacrifice fly to right centerfield by Darius Hill. Walks to the next two batters, including a bases-loaded free pass to Ivan Gonzalez, gave West Virginia a 3-1 lead.
“When (Brandon White) was up there with a full count, that’s as loud as I’ve ever heard this stadium,” Mazey said. “That’s not easy to pitch under those circumstances. I’ve been telling our fans the whole season, don’t just come and watch, come and help. I really think they helped us win that game because it’s not easy to throw a strike with 4,300 people yelling at you.”
Stankiewicz was pulled before the inning ended, marking it his shortest outing since making his first collegiate start against North Florida on Feb. 24.
“He doesn’t get rattled too much. I don’t think he was rattled,” Fordham coach Kevin Leighton said. “He has thrown a lot for us this year. I think a few calls didn’t go his way, at least from my angle. You are then working counts that are more hitter friendly. He just couldn’t command his offspeed stuff the way he normally has throughout the year and it got him in trouble.
West Virginia extended its lead in the sixth and seventh inning with a pair of doubles. Doanes hit a sinking line drive to right centerfield to score a pair of runs to give the Mountaineers a 5-1 lead in the sixth. Gonzalez doubled to the game gap an inning later for another run.
Playing in its first NCAA tournament in 21 years, Fordham got off to a fast start. The Rams opened the scoring when Matt Tarabek hit a run-scoring single under the diving glove of Doanes at second base to score Jake MacKenzie for a 1-0 lead.
Fordham prevented an earlier Mountaineers’ rally with its defense in the second inning. Billy Godrick crashed into the final zero of the 400-foot sign in straightaway centerfield to rob Paul McIntosh of extra bases. Second baseman C.J. Vazquez made a leaping catch on a line-drive behind the second-base bag for another out and Stankewicz knocked down a line drive and threw onto first to end the inning.
West Virginia pitcher Nick Snyder remained undefeated as a starter on the season. Snyder, who only pitched four innings in a relief role all of last season, is 9-0 in games he has started this year. He went five innings, gave up four hits, one run and struck out six, lowering his ERA to 2.65 in 68 innings.
Duke 8, Texas A&M 5:
Erikson Nichols and Rudy Maxwell each hit three-run home runs to power third-seeded Duke over No. 2-seed Texas A&M, 8-5, in the regional opener.
Nichols broke a scoreless tie in the top of the fourth inning with a towering shot to left field to give the Blue Devils a 3-0 lead. Maxwell, who entered the game as a pinch hitter in the seventh inning, also sent the second pitch he saw well over the left-field wall.
The two home runs for Duke (32-25) ignited a pair of four-run innings to support starting pitcher Ben Gross.
Gross surrendered his lone run on a sacrifice fly by Texas A&M’s Braden Shewmake to left field in the fifth, cutting the Aggies’ deficit to 4-1. He scattered four hits and struck out five over seven innings to earn the win.
The middle of Duke’s lineup caused problems for Aggies’ pitchers. The No. 4 through No. 7 hitters for the Blue Devils had 10 of their 11 hits. Kyle Gallagher and Nichols each had three hits.
Texas A&M (37-22-1) scored four runs and sent the tying run to the plate in the bottom of the ninth inning but its rally fell short.
The Aggies swept a three-game series against Fordham to open the season in mid-February.