By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
It’s been a fun ride for West Virginia University baseball this season, coming out of nowhere to reach the final weekend with a chance to win the regular-season Big 12 championship.
But coach Randy Mazey is not allowing the Mountaineers to get carried away with that thought.
In fact, chances are when they play a three-game series at Oklahoma State beginning today, Mazey will hold his best pitcher, Harrison Musgrave, back and aim for the conference tournament.
“We’ll decide on Friday if he’s going to pitch at all,” Mazey said in a Wednesday conference call from Stillwater.
The situation has Kansas State in the driver’s seat entering the final weekend. The Wildcats are in first place at 14-7 while WVU is tied with Oklahoma for second place, two games out at 12-9 with just three games to play.
K-State clinches a tie with WVU for the title with one victory. But that won’t come easily as the opponent is Oklahoma.
A K-State victory combined with WVU losing one game at Oklahoma State gives Kansas State the regular-season championship.
As it stands, WVU would have to sweep to win the regular-season title, and, to do that, they probably would have to pitch Musgrave, which would waste him for the conference tournament, something Mazey doesn’t want to do.
Circumstances have combined to make the situation difficult.
“Harrison has been going this entire season on every seventh day. We got rained out last week and we were pushed back a day this past weekend. With this series being moved up a day (starting Thursday, not Friday), it might not affect him this start. but it might affect him in the next start in the conference tournament.”
So what does Mazey do with a horse who possesses an 8-1 record and 2.14 ERA and is coming off a 2-0 shutout of TCU?
“We might start him if we have a chance to win the league, but if it’s just for the purposes of seeding in the conference tournament, then we may pitch him and give him some touch-up work, an inning or two to get him ready, but we don’t want to extend his pitch count,” Mazey said.
The coach has to do what’s best for Musgrave’s arm, which underwent Tommy John surgery and forced him to miss last season, especially with what seems to be a budding professional career now his for the taking.
This is not to say that the Mountaineers are just casting this series aside.
As far as they have come after being picked to finish last in the Big 12 in preseason makes everything they have accomplished seem that much more worthwhile, and they would like to establish momentum heading into the post-season.
“It would be good for us,” Mazey admitted. “The good thing about this team is we’ve been able to block out whatever has happened in the past and they have been able to refocus every time I have challenged them, so if we win two of three that would be a good momentum swing.
“Then once we get to Oklahoma City and start practicing it’s a whole new season and every team in the tournament has the same record. — 0-0. As long as you have the ability to forget about what happened, I don’t think it hurts you too bad.”
The pressure has built slowly on WVU, the first half of the season enjoying the freedom of playing without expectations.
“Coaches always have more fun when there are no expectations. Once we started winning some games and people started expecting us to win it kind of changed a little bit, but we were basically playing with the house’s money a little bit the first half of the season,” Mazey said.
“People would see West Virginia on their schedule surrounded by Texas, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. They would naturally feel a letdown and think that might be a little bit easier weekend than the others. That’s what we had hoped for, them thinking they could finish last.”
Mazey will start Dan Dierdorff in the opener of the series, then take it from there as he sees how the final series plays out.
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.