Kevin Dowdell has seen limited time for West Virginia since joining the program in the offseason, taking just 14 at-bats before Wednesday’s game against the University of Charleston. His 15th, however, introduced him to the spotlight.
The junior righty was put in the game as a pinch hitter in the bottom of the ninth with the Mountaineers trailing the Golden Eagles by a run. Dowdell worked the count full, and on the eighth pitch of the at-bat, he sent a game-tying solo home run over the right field bullpen, setting up an eventual walk-off RBI single by McGwire Holbrook to give WVU the 3-2 victory at home — the Mountaineers’ fourth walk-off of the campaign.
“I just tried to stay calm and keep the heart rate down,” Dowdell said. “A couple of those first two [foul balls], I was really just trying to get my timing right, and once I was able to do that…I knew I was locked in on him, so I just had to make sure I was on time for the next fastball to come in.”
The situation looked rather bleak for the Mountaineers before Dowdell entered the game, however, as they faced their first D-II opponent since 1991. WVU struggled to score runs throughout the contest, stranding 10 runners and leaving the bases loaded twice in the first three innings.
WVU scored the first run of the game in the fourth inning. Austin Davis scored JJ Wetherholt with an infield RBI single, but as Wetherholt crossed the plate, Dayne Leonard attempted to score right behind him and was thrown out. Davis and Tevin Tucker were then left stranded on the bases, marking two of the 10 runners left on base.
“You win games by getting hits with runners in scoring position and that’s what we didn’t do tonight, and to be honest with you, we haven’t really done that a whole lot this year. We beat Kansas the other day by hitting three solo homers with two outs and nobody on base. We need to get hits with men in scoring position, we’re just taking too many pitches.”
The Eagles rallied in the seventh to take the lead behind RBIs from Drew Klaserner and Andre Martinez, taking advantage of the faltering WVU reliever Aidan Major.
Cole Peschl (2-1) nearly earned his third win of the season in the outing, holding the Mountaineers scoreless and hitless for 2.2 innings. He was able to keep the one-run lead for the Eagles right through the eighth inning — but he was the man on the mound in the ninth, so he earned his first loss.
Daniel Ouderkirk (1-0) earned his first season as he tossed the top of the ninth inning for the Mountaineers. He allowed two hits but earned strikeouts for all three of his outs to keep additional runs off the board.
Ouderkirk was one of six pitchers for West Virginia as Randy Mazey worked a bullpen game. Freshman righties Will Watson and Michael Kilker threw the first three innings without allowing a hit or a run. Kilker was relieved by Major, who tossed the bulk of the game with 3.1 innings of work, allowing both of Charleston’s runs on five hits.
Veterans Chase Smith and Noah Short then pitched the next 1.2 frames, each allowing four hits before Ouderkirk finished the contest.
“We couldn’t afford to sacrifice any innings this weekend. Win, lose or draw, we were going to win, lose or draw with the guys that pitched tonight….We didn’t want to spend [Trey Braithwaite],” said WVU skipper Randy Mazey. “Noah Short, we didn’t want to let him to go too long, same way with Chase Smith. Those guys are all ready to go give us as many innings as they normally do on Friday.”
This game was a short-notice arrangement as the Mountaineers were struggling to make up games. It was announced on the schedule on Monday, and Charleston marked the first Division II opponent for WVU in 31 years.
The Golden Eagles are not just a run-of-the-mill D-II team, however, and they gave the Mountaineers a real challenge. They traveled to Morgantown with a 30-13 record and the top spot in the MEC, batting a combined .327 on the season with a .517 slugging percentage.
“They were super excited to play against us, rightfully so, what an awesome experience for these kids to come up here and get to play us, and you know every one of them is counting the outs,” said WVU coach Randy Mazey “When you get in the eighth inning, it’s like six more to go, five more to go, you count right down to the last one, so that was fun to watch their excitement. I say that now, but I appreciate them coming up.”
With the victory, West Virginia wins its third straight game before turning its attention to Texas. The Longhorns dropped out of the D1Baseball Top 25 after getting swept by Oklahoma State at home. Still, the Longhorns have some of the biggest bats in the league, leading the Big 12 with a .316 combined batting average and 87 home runs.
Despite that, Mazey’s focus this weekend is on his own ball club.
“We just need to play a really, really clean game all the way around,” Mazey said. “If we don’t play great on the mound, at the plate or on defense, they can abuse you. They could literally have the first-team all-conference player at each position, they’re that good. If we get a guy on second and third base with one out, we’ve got to find a way to get those guys in.”
The three-game series is set to run Friday through Sunday, and it will be shown on Big 12 Now on ESPN+. First pitch for game one is set for 6:30 p.m. ET.