— WVU Baseball (@WVUBaseball) June 2, 2017
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C.—When West Virginia outfielder Kyle Davis stepped onto Gene Hooks Field at David F. Couch Ballpark on Friday afternoon, he was excited and wary at the same time.
Like anyone else who has played on Wake Forest’s home field in Winston-Salem, Davis could see right away that the ball was going to fly out of the ballpark. It’s a well-known hitter’s haven. But he also knew the temptation to go yard could burn the Mountaineers, too.
“It’s fun to play in a park like that, but it also can go against you a little bit,” Davis said. “Because in the back of your mind, you’re kind of thinking you’ve got an easier chance to hit a home run. It’s a shorter porch, so you might stray away from your mechanics and what you’re good at.
“. . . It can work against you; it can work for you.”
On Friday, it worked for the Mountaineers—incredibly so. No. 2-seed West Virginia defeated No. 3-seed Maryland in blowout fashion, slugging a total of six home runs to win, 9-1. Davis hit two of those six home runs and drove in three. He’s up to 10 homers on the season.
Making that feat even more impressive was who it came against. Maryland had its ace on the mound, lanky junior righthander Brian Shaffer, who throws in the low-90s with a heavy sinker and throws a 78-81 mph breaking ball for strikes.
The Mountaineers came to the ballpark with the perfect plan against Shaffer—swing at the first pitch.
“He does throw a lot of strikes and we knew he likes to pound the zone and try to get ahead with the fastball—so that was our approach,” Davis said. “We knew that the first pitch was probably going to be a fastball somewhere.”
Shaffer allowed five of the six home runs, striking out seven and giving up seven runs on seven hits in five innings in an unusually rough outing.
West Virginia, meanwhile, turned to big-bodied, 6-foot-6 260-pound righthander Alek Manoah, who threw strikes far less predictably than Shaffer did. West Virginia head coach Randy Mazey joked that Manoah is just as likely to give up a hit as he is to hit the batter. And Manoah lived up to that—plunking four batters in the game.
But Mazey knew that the Mountaineers would play off of Manoah’s energy and exuberance on the mound, and that they did, hitting five of their homers by the fifth inning. Righthander B.J. Myers—the team’s typical Friday starter—threw 5.2 scoreless innings in relief to seal the win.
Joining Davis in the home run club was catcher Ivan Gonzalez, third baseman Cole Austin, and shortstop Jimmy Galusky, who also hit two home runs despite hitting just two homers in 181 at-bats before Friday.
“(That was) pretty different,” Galusky said, laughing. “It’s not something I’m really used to—or my teammates, really. When I came into the dugout, that was a big question for everybody else. It was a pretty exciting moment.”
While some of those homers would’ve been homers anywhere, a few barely scraped over the hitter-friendly walls of Couch Ballpark. Gonzalez’ homer in particular likely would’ve been a double in most other stadiums.
“I think that home runs here happen by accident almost,” Maryland outfielder Zach Jancarski said. “If you just keep your same approach and try to hit the ball hard and flat, if you get under it a little bit, it’s going to be a homer. If you don’t, it’ll be a double. So I mean, obviously, the ball flies here. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
With that said, Maryland head coach John Szefc didn’t make excuses or take anything away from West Virginia’s hitters, saying the Terps needed a better outing from Shaffer and needed to take advantage of early opportunities. The Terrapins loaded the bases twice early in the game with nothing to show for it.
For the Mountaineers, who are playing in their first regional in 21 years, Friday was merely just a start. Mazey’s club is trying not to get wrapped up in one win. They have their eyes sit on bigger goals, and they know, in this ballpark, anything is possible. They’ll play the winner of Wake Forest and Maryland-Baltimore County on Saturday night.
“In a park like this, anybody can beat anybody,” Mazey said. “This park neutralizes a lot of things. You can hit a ball in the air, and it just happens to fall on the other side of the fence. So it doesn’t matter if you’re a power hitter or not, you can hit home runs and keep your team in a game.
“Even when you’re up 7-1 or 8-1, you can’t feel great about it.”