Spikes Steal Two Games in Series at State College
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. - The West Virginia Black Bears finished the second series of the six-game road trip with a series loss to the State College Spikes. Coming off a loss in the fourth game at Auburn, the Bears strove to rejuvenate their stifled offense. Although they generated heat early in all three games, West Virginia never managed to catch fire and dropped 2-of-3 to State College.
The win in the series finale brought the Black Bears within half a game of the Batavia Muckdogs for first place in the Pinckney Division and 1.5 games ahead of the Spikes.
In the first game of the series at State College, West Virginia lost to the Spikes by a final score of 4-3. Although they held a two-run lead until the final inning, the Black Bears lost on a walk-off single in the ninth.
The Young Bucs jumped on the board first with an RBI single from 1B Brendt Citta that brought home RF Matt Fraizer in the top of the second inning. Fraizer, who doubled on a hard, line drive to left field, successfully stole third base to put him in prime scoring position with Citta at the plate. Since beginning the last third of the season, Citta has compiled an impressive stat line with 16 hits and a team best .333 BA in the month of August. He connected with the second pitch from Spikes' starting pitcher, Scott Politz, to drive in Fraizer and give the Bears a 1-0 lead.
West Virginia tallied two more runs in the second to extend the lead 3-0. After CF Brett Kinneman reached first on a fielder's choice at second base, SS Victor Ngoepe drove a hard liner to center field that scored Citta and Kinneman with two outs. 2B Dean Lockery struck out swinging to end the Black Bears' attack, but Ngoepe's triple padded West Virginia's lead going into the home half of the inning.
RHP Grant Ford started off strong in his eighth start for the Black Bears as he allowed no hits or runs over three innings. However, Ford retired to the dugout early after he was struck by a line drive hit back to the mound by Donivan Williams. Though he recorded the final out of the third inning with a play to Citta at first, RHP Francis Del Orbe was tapped to replace him in the fourth.
Del Orbe continued to hold the Spikes at bay, giving up only three hits and one home run in the bottom of the fourth. The Dominican native recorded seven strikeouts in four innings before being relieved by RHP Garrett Leonard in the bottom of the eighth.
Leonard picked up his first loss of the season after he allowed four runs in the ninth. With bases loaded, a double hit to Fraizer scored two runs and tied the game 3-3. Leonard then gave up a single on a ground ball to Ngoepe that brought home the winning run.
After Sunday's loss, West Virginia attempted to rebound back to 1.5 games ahead of State College in the Pinckney Division race. The Black Bears fought to even the series but fell to the Spikes 3-2.
State College controlled the pace of the first two innings with three runs scored off RHP J.C. Flowers. Flowers picked up his first loss of the year, with three runs on three hits, two of them earned.
But the top of the third proved to be productive for the Black Bears as they scored two runs. The bottom of the order came through when SS Victor Ngoepe doubled on a fly ball to right field that advanced 1B Brendt Citta to third and put two men in scoring position. Citta scored his 15th run of the season on a sacrifice fly ball hit to center field by 3B Jared Triolo. With Citta's run, Triolo recorded his 33rd RBI - a team high.
C Kyle Wilkie added to the run total on a hard-hit single to right field that scored Ngoepe. Caught in a rundown between first and second base, Wilkie was tagged out but not before he brought home Ngoepe to cut the lead to one run.
Scoring trailed off after the third inning for both teams, as neither plated another run the rest of the game. Though the Black Bears loaded the bases in the seventh, they were never able to capitalize, and they went down in order the last two innings.
The Bears ended the game with their third consecutive loss and only a half game separating them from the Spikes.
Lockdown relief pitching and consistent offense highlighted the Black Bears' winning performance in the series finale. In a game tied 3-3 for seven innings, West Virginia dug in and willed its way to a 6-3 win in ten innings.
The top of the order got things started for the Black Bears in the top of the first inning. Lead-off hitter RF Blake Sabol sent a ball deep into center field that bounced over the wall for a ground rule double to put a man in scoring position on the first hit of the game. Sabol came home on a ground out by LF Fernando Villegas to give the Bears a 1-0 lead. 2B Cory Wood kept things moving with a hard liner up the middle that scored 3B Jared Triolo for two-run lead going into the bottom of the inning.
Quinn Priester, the 2019 first round draft pick for the Pittsburgh Pirates, made his Black Bears debut against the Spikes. The 18-year-old, 18th overall pick struggled to find solid footing on the mound in his first start. Fighting through first-game jitters, Priester loaded the bases after three walks and two wild pitches in the first inning. West Virginia's defense lent a helping hand with a double play, and Priester found his way out of the inning with only one run on 23 pitches.
The Black Bears kept the pressure on the Spikes with another run in the top of the second. C Elys Escobar bagged his eighth RBI of the season with a line drive double that brought in CF Brett Kinneman to knot the game at three runs.
Priester loaded the bases once more in the second inning but left the inning unscathed after another quick defensive play by Wood. He continued to show his Top Prospect talent through the third and fourth innings and allowed only three runs on three hits. In total, Priester threw four innings with four strikeouts, retiring the last seven batters in a row.
For the second consecutive night, both teams fell silent after early inning runs. LHP Trey McGough threw his longest outing yet with an impressive eight strikeouts over four innings. McGough's efforts were followed by All-Star Cameron Junker who shut out the ninth inning, retiring all three batters in order with two strikeouts.
West Virginia began extra innings with Sabol on second base. With the heart of the lineup at bat, the Bears' hitters did not hesitate to execute. Triolo brought in Sabol on a fielder's choice, and a wild pitch from Eric Lex scored Triolo and moved Villegas to second. Then, DH Brendt Citta tore into a line drive to right field to extend the Black Bears lead to 6-3.
In the bottom of the inning, another perfect pitching performance ended the game and West Virginia's three-game losing streak. Closing out the tenth with three strikeouts, Junker improved to a 1.40 ERA and picked up his fifth win.
The win brought West Virginia within half a game of the first-place Batavia Muckdogs and created a 1.5 game cushion between the Bears and the third-place Spikes.
The Black Bears return to Morgantown for their last home series of the regular season. Wednesday through Friday, West Virginia battles for first place in the Pinckney Division and a spot in the playoffs when they take on the Muckdogs at Monongalia County Ballpark. For tickets and promotions, please visit www.westvirginiablackbears.com.
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New York-Penn League Stories from August 27, 2019
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