PITTSBURGH – When Pitt players and fans reminisce about being swept by West Virginia in the Backyard Brawl series, J.J. Wetherholt and Caleb McNeely will likely be at the front of their minds.
Both Wetherholt and McNeely homered in West Virginia’s (37-12, 13-5 Big 12) 9-8 win over Pitt (21-25, 9-13 ACC) Wednesday night at Charles L. Cost Field in Pittsburgh. If that sentence sounds familiar, it is because both players accomplished the same feats in last week’s matchup at Monongalia County Ballpark.
“[A win] means a lot to the fans of West Virginia,” head coach Randy Mazey said. “I know that. It means a lot to our players. It means a lot in the standings right now. There’s a lot riding on these games, and when the season’s over, you look back and see how many games we won, and [the ones] we didn’t, and you’re like, ‘Man, one game would’ve made a difference.’ So every game you win is a really big one.”
With WVU down 2-0 in the second, McNeely launched his 11th homer of the season on a three-run, go-ahead homer. He went deep in all three Backyard Brawl games in 2023.
“Hitting is such a mental game,” Mazey said. “And [McNeely’s] confidence, I think, kind of comes and goes sometimes, but when he’s feeling good and he’s relaxed, he’s capable of doing some real damage. So let’s hope he’s relaxed the rest of the season.”
J.J. Wetherholt entered Wednesday’s game as the nation’s leader in batting average at .463. Unsurprisingly, he increased that average to .470 with a 3-for-4 showing that included a double and a two-run blast, his 14th on the season. With a potential insurance run on third base in his last at-bat, Pitt intentionally walked Wetherholt.
Wetherholt also made two highlight reel-worthy web gems at second base, including an over-the-shoulder grab while ranging straight back in the direction of the right-field fence. Even after two extra-base hits and multiple memorable plays in the field, he still was not satisfied.
“I just [have] to get a little more consistent with my double-play feeds because I’ve been spiking [them],” Wetherholt said humbly.
After the home runs, Ellis Garcia and Logan Sauve each tallied run-scoring singles to boost the Mountaineer lead.
Like his first start against Pitt, freshman Carson Estridge ran into some trouble early, but his offense gave him a fluffy cushion in the form of a 9-3 lead by the fifth inning. After allowing two runs in the first, he surrendered three more in four-and-a-third innings of work. It was his longest start of the season. Reliever Noah Short (4-0) earned the win after recording two outs in relief for Estridge. Short has not allowed an earned run in his last three appearances.
The Mountaineer bullpen faced serious pressure in the seventh inning when Pitt rallied for three runs – only two were earned – off Kevin Dowdell to narrow the difference to 9-8.
“We’re just trying to put all the right pieces together out of the bullpen to know who we can use down the stretch,” Mazey said. “We had to count on some other guys to get outs, so when that happens, those guys got to get outs if they want to go back out there.”
David Hagaman and Carlson Reed combined for two innings of scoreless relief to close the game for the Mountaineers. Reed earned his sixth save of the season.
The Mountaineers resume Big 12 play this weekend when they host Texas Tech (34-16, 9-9 Big 12) at Monongalia County Ballpark. First pitch of Friday’s game one is scheduled for 6:30 p.m.