The Times West Virginian

Sports

May 15, 2014

WVU baseball needs strong finish to secure NCAA berth

MORGANTOWN — West Virginia’s baseball team is in the bottom of the ninth inning of its bid for an NCAA postseason berth and you have a hunch they go into it in need of a strong rally.

The Mountaineers travel to Texas Tech for the final Big 12 three-game series of the year today, Friday and Saturday and common sense tells you they need to finish with a flourish, then make a little noise in the Big 12 Tournament to solidify themselves as an NCAA team.

WVU had seemed to put itself in line for a tournament bid when it won 11 of 13 games after a devastating seven-game losing streak, twice being swept by conference opponents, to get its RPI as high as No. 21 in the country.

But those now are little more than the good old days, for the most recent adventures have seen the Mountaineers go into Kansas and get swept in a three-game series, then go to Maryland on Tuesday and have their bats shut down in losing a fourth-straight game.

The result has been that WVU has slipped to 27th now in the RPI and can ill afford being swept at Texas Tech, which is a notoriously difficult place to play.

“They are 24-4 at home,” WVU coach Randy Mazey noted. “Talk about a challenge. I mean it’s a hard place to win, a really hard place to win.”

The toughest thing for WVU may not be the quality team Texas Tech, which possesses a 37-16 record and 14 RPI, puts on the field as much as the weather.

“The biggest deal for us will be the heat down there,” Mazey said, who will get a taste of what it will be like if his proposal to play college baseball in the summer will be like in a lot of places. “It’s supposed to be 100 degrees and that will make it 120 on the turf. That’s something we’re not accustomed to and they are. We’ll have to go down and play well if we want to keep playing.”

The biggest challenge for Mazey is to rebuild his team’s confidence, which was soaring during the hot streak as it looked almost unbeatable, especially when winning two of three from Texas, the team with the No. 13 RPI.

He began working on that aspect of the game directly after the midweek loss to Maryland.

“As I told our guys in the huddle after the game, if I told you going into the last weekend in the season that our RPI would be in the 20s and we’d be playing for an at large bid, I think every one of us would have taken that,” Mazey said. “I’m proud of the way the guys have played to this point and we’re not going to look back at all. We’re going to look ahead at this weekend, go to bed tonight with a ton of confidence and go down there planning to win.”

Tonight’s opener is a 7:30 p.m. game, followed by another on Friday while Saturday’s crucial final game is slated for 3 p.m. in the heat of the afternoon.

Links to live video and live stats will be available on WVUsports.com, while the radio broadcast will be on select affiliates of the Mountaineer Sports Network from IMG College.

Playing on Thursday makes it a short week but Mazey doesn’t plan to alter his team’s pitching rotation, going on Thursday with the ace of the staff, left-hander Harrison Musgrave, who is 5-3 with a 2.23 ERA and with a little more offensive support this season could have won a lot more games.

Sophomore left-hander Ross Vance puts his 3-2 record a 3.16 ERA on the line Friday while a third southpaw, John Means, takes a 6-1 record and 2.87 ERA to the mound on Saturday.

Texas Tech coach Tim Tadlock will counter with junior right-hander Corey Taylor (5-2, 1.88 ERA) on Thursday, junior left-hander Chris Sadberry (4-2, 3.34 ERA) on Friday and freshman left-hander Dylan Dusek (5-0, 2.63 ERA) in Saturday’s finale.

West Virginia stands at 27-21 on the year and probably needs to get to 30 victories to earn an NCAA invitation. They stand at 9-11 in the Big 12 and can only reach .500 by sweeping the three games. They stand sixth in the league but could jump to fourth with a sweep.

Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.

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