MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - I couldn’t help but think of Chris Enochs while watching West Virginia University sophomore right-hander Michael Grove
mow through Kansas’ lineup on Saturday afternoon.
It was about the fifth inning when I realized he had a no-hitter going, the sixth when it registered that it was a perfect game because he hadn’t yet pitched from the stretch, and then probably about the eighth when I thought he might pull off an Enochs and throw a no-hitter.
But with two outs in the eighth, Jayhawk third baseman David Kyriacou lined a sharp single to center, breaking up Grove’s bid for history.
“After he got the first out in the fifth inning, I looked at the line on the scoreboard and said to myself ‘oh my goodness, he has a no-hitter going,’” West Virginia coach Randy Mazey said. “Then you start counting down outs and telling guys in the outfield, ‘hey, anything close you have to dive for it to try and preserve this thing.’ You don’t talk about a no-hitter or a perfect game, but everybody knows.”
Grove, too, really began to lock in after the fifth when he saw the straight line of zeros across the scoreboard.
“I kind of came in and was like ‘if I can get through the sixth and the seventh one more time I’m in the back half of their order going down the stretch and I might have a chance’ but it was fun to sit down and realize that it was a possibility,” Grove said.
There have been eight no-hitters thrown in WVU history, but only two - Billy Biggs versus Buffalo in 2002 and Jason Hively against George Washington in 1994 - were of the nine-inning variety.
The others were either seven or five-inning deals, one of those seven-inning no-nos coming from Enochs in 1997.
I was at Hawley Field that sunny March afternoon scoring the game, and what I remember clearly was Enochs standing tall out on the mound and simply overpowering Wildcat hitters with his 94-mph fastball. Only three balls reached the outfield through five innings, and the lone baserunner came in the sixth when Enochs fanned Villanova third baseman Eric Kropf but he reached on a passed ball.
Enochs struck out the next batter and then got out of the inning when leadoff batter Brian Fili grounded out to short.
In the top of the seventh, Enochs set down Villanova’s two, three and four hitters in order to register the sixth no-hitter in school history. He fanned 10 and walked none while throwing an economical 87 pitches, 59 of those for strikes.
There have been two no-hitters thrown since then - by Matt Yurish in 2006 and Josh Whitlock in 2007 - both against Coppin State - but neither pitcher had Enochs’ electric stuff, or Grove’s for that matter.
Grove has a fastball that can touch 94 (the stadium radar gun reading I am told is a mph or two off), and he used his arm strength to overpower Jayhawk batters on Saturday.
“That’s the most dominant pitching performance I’ve seen in 15 years at Kansas,” Jayhawks coach Ritch Price remarked afterward. Price said his hitters had just “two good at-bats” against Grove for the game, which clearly demonstrates his effectiveness.
Grove struck out 12 and walked none on 109 pitches during his eight innings of work before giving way to Riley Troutt
in the ninth with the Mountaineers comfortably ahead, 9-0.
When Grove walked off the field after the eighth, the 2,085 in attendance at Monongalia County Ballpark gave him a standing ovation.
He faced 23 batters in a row and sent 23 batters in a row back to the Jayhawk dugout shaking their head.
“I just had confidence in my fastball that no matter where I was in the count I could throw a strike when I needed to,” Grove said.
Grove’s live arm, his mound presence and stature (6-foot-3, 200 pounds) make him very similar to what I remember seeing from Enochs whenever he took the mound.
Enochs was from Newell and went to Oak Glen High in New Cumberland, and Grove, from Wheeling Park High in Wheeling, also hails from the state’s Northern Panhandle.
Enochs had enough juice on his fastball to be taken 11th overall in the first round of the 1997 draft by the Oakland A’s.
After breezing through his first two years of professional baseball and advancing to Double-A, Chris encountered shoulder problems that ultimately derailed his pro career before he could make the majors.
Although there were no scouts at the ballpark as far as I could tell watching Grove pitch on Saturday, from what people tell me he will be a highly coveted professional prospect when he becomes draft-eligible next year.
In the meantime, I’m going to sit back and enjoy one of the best Saturday arms in the Big 12 Conference for the rest of the year - and next year as well.