Extra-base hits, a stolen home plate and a Ben Hampton gem: WVU’s season opener had all the hallmarks of a quintessential Mountaineer baseball win.
Unfortunately for West Virginia, Georgia Southern pulled off a 3-run rally in the seventh inning to steal a 4-3 win from the Mountaineers on opening night at the Eagles’ JJ Clements Stadium in Statesboro, Georgia.
Georgia Southern pestered the Mountaineer bullpen in the seventh inning, starting with righty reliever Aidan Major (0-1), who earned the loss for West Virginia. With his team up by two runs, Major’s stint started in disaster, giving up two walks and a sacrifice bunt to load the bases.
With just one out on the board, Jesse Sherrill dinked another bunt into the infield, sending Zane Faulk home while reaching base safely to keep them loaded.
Major struck out the next Eagle hitter to bring up a two-out situation, but skipper Randy Mazey pulled him from the mound. He brought out senior lefty Jake Carr, who returned to the mound after missing all of 2022.
Carr’s outing went even worse, as he gave up a single to the first hitter he faced, Noah Ledford. That hit turned out to be the death knell as it sent two scorers home and put the Eagles in front for the victory.
That comeback wiped away a strong start by the Mountaineers that included four extra-base hits. Sophomore JJ Wetherholt opened the campaign with a shallow double, digging out a throw and sliding into second to get in early scoring position. In the third inning, leadoff hitter Braden Barry fell just feet short of the team’s first home run of 2023, knocking a ball off the wall and sliding into third base for a triple to record his first hit of the season.
Newcomer Landon Wallace provided the team’s true highlight reel, though, when he hit an RBI triple in the fourth inning. In the subsequent at-bat, he capitalized on GSU starter Ty Fisher’s left-handedness to steal home and give WVU its first lead of the season.
Grant Hussey put WVU ahead in the next frame with a sacrifice fly, but he finished 0 for 4 with three strikeouts.
WVU’s offense was enough to give plenty of support to starter Ben Hampton, who weathered some risky situations to throw six innings of one-hit baseball with one earned run. Hampton struck out eight batters and walked four, throwing 96 pitches in his first start.
Mitchell Gross (1-0) earned the win in relief after entering the game in the fifth. He tossed 2 1/3 innings out of the bullpen, fanning three batters and allowing a hit. Jaylen Paden earned the save after closing out the ninth inning with two strikeouts and a hit allowed.
WVU and Georgia State only started their three-game series to open the season. It continues on Saturday with the second game’s first pitch set for 2 p.m. ET on ESPN+.