The Times West Virginian

WVU Sports

May 21, 2014

WVU opens Big 12 tourney

MORGANTOWN — The way West Virginia baseball coach Randy Mazey sees it, it’s his team’s turn to start winning again as they open the Big 12 Tournament against Kansas at 10 a.m. today at Bricktown Ballpark in Oklahoma City.

“We started the year losing a lot, then we won a lot, then we lost a lot,” he noted. “It looks to me to be time to start winning a lot.”

And that is really the Mountaineers’ only alternative if they want to reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1996 ... and that comes with no guarantees any longer.

See, the gods of baseball did not smile upon the Mountaineers the last two weeks of the regular season. Poised to make the NCAA field with a 22 RPI and a run of 11 wins in 13 games, WVU inexplicably went into a seven-game losing streak.

“Inexplicably” may not be the right word, for they did play all seven of those games on the road against difficult opponents, but they had handled life away from home relatively well.

In truth, the Mountaineers played better than seven losses in a row would indicate.

They lost two consecutive games on walk-off hits at Texas Tech, which possessed a 32-4 home field record. They continued to pitch well, as they had all year, although the hitters did stop hitting with runners in scoring position.

They got out of a bases-loaded, none-out jam with a triple play and still managed to lose.

They had Ryan McBroom hit for the cycle, only the second cycle in the program’s history, and still managed to lose.

“We feel like we have a really good team, but this is what the Big 12 is,” Mazey said. “It’s a really good conference, and when you go on the road in the Big 12, you play against top 25 teams all the time. It’s hard to win like that, but I don’t think we’re playing badly by any stretch of the imagination, and our RPI reflects that we’re having a really good season.

“The league’s really good this year. It’s the second-ranked league in the country for a reason. All of the teams are good. When you’re playing against good teams, that’s what you get.”

The result of the losing streak is that the RPI has fallen to 29 and a couple of losses would drop them out of the top 30, leave them with a nine-game losing streak and no chance at NCAA play. Wasted would be that wonderful weekend in which they said goodbye to Hawley Field with two of three wins over Texas.

Gone would be so much good work during the year. It’s not something WVU wants to give up. But turning things around and winning again will not be easy, for their first foe, Kansas, is steamrolling its way into the tournament.

Kansas is the No. 3 seed and owns a 34-22 record compared to WVU’s 27-24 and is 15-9 in Big 12 play compared to WVU’s 9-14.

What’s more, Kansas sent WVU reeling into the losing streak by sweeping three games convincingly down the stretch.

“We are eerily similar to where Kansas was last year,” Mazey said. “We swept Kansas last year in Beckley. They beat us in the first round of the conference tournament. But they had lost six games in a row going in and they came out and beat us. I don’t think there’s any doubt in any player’s mind or any coach’s mind we’re going to win that first game this time.”

Such talk may convince reporters, but it is going to have to convince his team, just as he will have to convince his team that they are still playing for a spot in the NCAAs.

“You never know what you need to get in,” Mazey said. “It all depends what else happens around the country. But in boxing and MMA and anything like that, you always say you don’t want to leave it in the hands of the judges. You go for the knockout. Crazy things have happened in the past.”

That is why Mazey plans to run his ace, Harrison Musgrave, out there in the opener.

Now, Musgrave has not been quite as dominating as he was last year when he went 9-1 with a 2.17 ERA. This year he’s 5-3 with a 2.32 ERA, but that won-lost record is deceiving, for he easily could have won nine games with some bullpen help.

WVU’s starting rotation of Musgrave, Ross Vance and John Means has been solid but the bullpen has struggled all year, which means you can bet with everything on the line Mazey will go longer with his starting pitchers than he had gone.

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