The Times West Virginian

Sports

May 18, 2014

HERTZEL COLUMN: Reeling WVU’s NCAA hopes fading away

MORGANTOWN — West Virginia University baseball coach Randy Mazey has proven himself to be king of the sound bite in his two seasons of charming the state, if not the nation, with his Mountaineer team, but he outdid himself this weekend as his season was slipping away.

WVU, which needed to win at least one game at Texas Tech in the regular season’s final series to keep alive flickering NCAA tournament hopes, had just lost a second-straight walk off heartbreaker, 3-2, leaving his team not only facing a win-or-else final game to the season on Saturday but also in need of one and probably two victories in the Big 12 Tournament to qualify.

His message following that game?

“You have two choices now: You can either get bitter or get better. We’re going to try our best to get better.”

It could not really have been said any better than that.

This was a team that had every right to be bitter. It had fought back from a seven-game losing streak earlier in the season to pound its way into NCAA contention and then, on the road in the toughest venue in which to play in the conference, which is Texas Tech where the Red Raiders were 28-4 entering the series, they had scratched and clawed with everything they had.

And they lost the first two games, each time on a walk-off hit, the first game in 11 cruel innings in which two balls scorched by cleanup hitter Ryan McBroom wound up as sacrifice flies rather than fence-rattling or fence-clearing hits; the second time with left-hander Vance Ross leaving his heart and his left arm on the mound through 151 pitches of a gut-wrenching performance that wound up with the 3-2 defeat.

The Mountaineers had played so well, so hard, that if they hadn’t won on the scoreboard they had won over the opposing coach.

“Tip your hat to West Virginia. Those guys, you have to feel for them a little bit, but at the same time, really proud of our guys,” Red Raiders coach Tim Tadlock said after that game.

Bitter? Or better?

Certainly, after rolling over and playing dead in Saturday’s 4-0 loss that ended the regular season with a seven-game losing streak they certainly weren’t better, and the only thing about the Mountaineers that was bitter was the taste it left in their mouths.

Now what?

A couple of weeks ago they were local heroes. They’d won the series over Texas in front of no less a Longhorn alumnus than Roger Clemens. They had gotten off the floor and gotten their RPI down to 22, the talk being that they had cinched a trip to a regional.

They had done everything asked of them, except finishing the season.

Who would know as they took their bows they were standing on a trap door that was about to spring open with them falling through.

They went to Kansas and were swept, went to Maryland and lost, then went to Texas Tech and were swept to give them their second straight game losing streak of the season.

NCAAs?

To be honest, they haven’t earned their way into the tournament. You don’t lose your last seven games and convince anyone you are a tournament team. You don’t finish five games under .500 in your league at 9-14 and convince anyone you belong in the tournament.

They can get there, but they are going to have to make a run in the Big 12 Tournament … not win a game or two.

They need to beat the Kansas team that buried them on its home field, then win a second and probably a third game to get the committee to be thinking about them again … and it doesn’t matter what their RPI is because that was built more by playing a lot of road games than by winning.

The shame of what happened?

Three of their players — pitcher Harrison Musgrave, first baseman Ryan McBroom and Sean Carley — turned down professional offers to return, saying they did it because they felt “something special happening” in Morgantown.

Too bad it couldn’t have happened on the road, too.

Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.

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