A heroic figure stood out during WVU’s bad phase | News, Sports, Jobs


MORGANTOWN — In the rubble of West Virginia’s ill-fated week in Texas, which included a five-game losing streak and a quick exit from the Big 12 Baseball Championships in Arlington, stood a heroic figure.

Left-handed starter Ben Hampton faced disaster along the way and found a way to fight his way through, giving West Virginia a chance to stay alive in the tournament when it looked like things were going to dwindle quickly.

A production designer is needed here. Hampton had been WVU’s No. 1 starting pitcher all season. He was the man who started Friday’s game in a weekend series, with Friday being the key game because you usually face the best shooter the other team has to offer and if you win you just have to split the Saturday and Sunday games , to win the series.

The junior left-hander had a 5-1 record through May 12, when he lost a tough 5-2 decision to Texas Tech, following perhaps the most important start he’s ever made as a college pitcher.

He was given additional rest as coach Randy Mazey held him down until the final game of the Texas series in hopes it would be a Big 12 preparation and not to save WVU from getting off being overwhelmed by the Longhorns and getting caught in a group of three. In the regular-season championship away game, Hampton just wasn’t himself.

WVU suffered 22 runs in the first two games of the series and needed a strong effort from Hampton, but it just wasn’t there. He only lasted six batters and worked just a third of an inning before Mazey drew him in a first inning with four runs for Texas, giving them the win.

Mazey decided to play with freshman David Manahan and hold off Hampton in the opening game of the Big 12 tournament, but WVU was beaten by Texas Tech in the opening game of the double elimination tournament.

Oklahoma State was up next, so this was one of those crucial eliminations that Hampton was entrusted with, but it was one in which he suffered after back-to-back losses and the debacle that was the start in Texas.

No one who has been there can know how difficult it is to be in this situation. Looking for a real life comparison, maybe you are a seller, just lost your biggest account and now you have a chance to acquire an even bigger account.

You may polish your shoes and think of some nice things, but you must be more nervous than you should be and distracted while you contemplate the consequences that would happen if this one escapes.

Hampton went to the mound and was immediately in knee-deep trouble, the bases were loaded, no one was out and Blaine Traxel started warming up in the bullpen. A sacrifice fly scored a run, a dribbler used by Hampton himself made the second out as the second run scored.

It was 2-0 and Hampton knew he was swimming in shark infested waters, but that wasn’t the case

to give in and as he put together a heroic pitching line that showed six innings of work, two runs, each undeserved, and only three hits allowed.

It was the first time in two years that he hadn’t conceded earned runs in a start, a heroic feat.

He didn’t save the game, but he might have saved the season because if WVU had failed, there’s no telling what the NCAA selection committee would have done. Considering the loss was just 3-2 and the game was a well-played duel that went all the way to the batting final and the Mountaineers left the bases loaded, it’s almost certain they’ll be included in the tournament field.

“That was maybe the biggest thing that came out today,” Mazey said in his post-game press conference. “We needed [Hampton] to make a good pitch today, and he did it. That’s really encouraging for the future. That’s one of the things we had to do when we came here.”

The key to regrouping in the middle of what appeared to be a second short game in a row that left Traxel likely one shot away from being substituted was his belief in both his teammates and himself.

“I always trust our offense and it’s been great for us all year,” he said. “So I knew that if we could stay within two runs we had a great chance of winning the game. We’ve got some great guys in the bullpen like Carlson Reed waiting for us, so I just knew I had to give us four, five or six strong innings and keep us in the game.”

Add Hampton’s performance, which included his 200th strikeout, to Big 12 Players of the Year JJ Wetherholt, who broke his late-season bottom with a single, double, walk and two hit-by-pitches, and despite the Losing streak allows WVU to start the season with NCAAs with renewed confidence.

“It’s a good sign for us,” Mazey said of Wetherholt’s performance. “If LeBron (James) gets a lot of points for the Lakers, that’s a good sign. If JJ is on base we have a real chance of winning.” When he’s on base it’s contagious to the rest of the team. When it hits, most of us have good bats.”

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