West Virginia’s hopes of beating St. John’s in the first round of the Big East championship baseball tournament rest on the arm of Kenny Durst.

“I’m excited and feel pretty good,” said the sophomore left-hander from Pt. Pleasant. “I had a good outing the last time, so I’ll be all right.”

Durst has a 4-4 record and 4.53 earned run average. He hasn’t pitched since April 14 in a 9-1 victory at Cincinnati.

The fifth-seeded Moun-taineers (35-20) and the fourth-seeded Red Storm (37-17) collide at 5 p.m. today in Clearwater, Fla.

Those two teams did not meet during the regular season. St. John’s leads the all-time series by 15-19.

“That we didn’t play them this year really doesn’t make it more difficult,” Durst said. “You still go over their batters’ stats with the coaches and go in with the same mentality.”

Coach Greg Van Zant said, “St. John’s is hitting .325 as a team, which is in the Top 15 in the country. (WVU is batting a league-best .341).

“St. John’s ERA also is good. They always pitch well, and they always have a good offense. But anybody we play at the tournament is going to be a quality team.”

WVU outfielder Casey Bowling and St. John’s Chris Joachim are tied for second place in the Big East with .400 batting averages.

They’re also tied for seventh in total hits with 78.

“As I’ve said before, I had injuries the past couple years and I’ve been healthy this season,” Bowling said. “So things have turned out well for me. “True winners never give up. So I’ve come back from adversity and, fortunately, made some good things happen.”

Bowling doesn’t think the Mountaineers’ spirits are down after losing two of three to South Florida.

“I believe we have a lot of confidence going into the tournament,” he said. “I think our chances are pretty good.”

WVU third baseman Justin Jenkins leads the league in hits with 89 and batting .372. Teammates Tyler Kuhn is second (88) and Doug Nelms is tied for fifth (79) with St. John’s Will Vogl.

Catcher David Carpenter, who’s batting .326, thinks losing to USF was a wake-up call.

“It’s probably better that we see that we can be beaten right now,” he reasoned. “We’ve played pretty well the last couple weeks.

“So maybe we can play our ‘A’ games down there. We’ll try to do our best in every phase. This is the time of year that everybody plays for.”

Carpenter tops the Big East in picking off runners (12). He is tied for fourth place in players caught stealing (17).

The eight-team tournament at Clearwater’s Bright House Networks Field is a double-elimination affair.

Tuesday’s other games pit No. 3 Louisville (28-28) vs. No. 6 Rutgers (27-26), 10 a.m.; No. 2 Connecticut (38-16-1) vs. No. 7 Cincinnati (32-24), 1 p.m.; and No. 1 Notre Dame (41-14-1) vs. No. 8 USF (22-33), 8 p.m.

Winners and losers will be matched for Wednesday’s four contests. The tourney ends Saturday.

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