West Virginia’s Coming Weekend Marks Texas-Sized Series For Jackson Cramer
By Matt Keller
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Jackson Cramer’s plate production remains an X factor for West Virginia as it heads into its final regular season series at Texas this weekend.
When the first baseman is producing, the line-up follows suit. Cramer provides the Mountaineers with formidable power in the middle of the order with eight home runs, 35 RBI and a .450 slugging percentage, all numbers which rank in the top three on the team. But Cramer has followed a similar pattern his last three seasons, chasing weeks of wild productivity with prolonged slumps which cut his total numbers significantly.
Cramer was hitting .320 following WVU’s series-clinching, 5-4 walk-off win against No. 3 TCU on April 16. He went 2-for-3 in the game, with three RBI, a double and two walks, the last of which forced home the tying run in the ninth inning before another base on balls completed the Mountaineers’ victory over their highest-ranked opponent ever.
Then the slump hit as Cramer didn’t, battling through a 2-for-40 stretch which dropped his average to .263 after the game last Saturday against Gardner-Webb. After focusing on his power, backed by head coach Randy Mazey’s philosophy that extra base hits win games and singles don’t – Cramer tweaked the approach over the last few games, trying to drive the ball in favorable counts while looking for contact when behind. It’s paid off as far as on-base percentage, as the senior has four hits in his last five at-bats, all singles.
“I have had a lot of bad luck for awhile,” Cramer said. “I am starting to feel better, too. I’m more comfortable, and that helps. Getting in better counts and getting pitches earlier in counts. It’s easier for me to play right now. I don’t know why, but I feel like I have that funk behind me. It’s a trust issue. Trusting yourself and your abilities and not trying to do too much. When things are going well, you want to do more. We were losing some games at the time, too, so I was really pressing. I feel like I have that behind me now.”
But the pitching of Gardner-Webb, which WVU swept in a rain-shortened, two-game series last weekend, or Pitt, which it defeated Tuesday night, isn’t that of Texas. The Longhorns’ rotation leads the Big 12 in both ERA at 3.13 and opposing batting average at .226. UT has allowed the least runs of any conference staff all season, and stymied foes’ power while tossing a league-best seven shutouts.
Which is why this is a huge weekend for Cramer. If the Coppell, Texas native can continue his production against his home state school, it would go a long way in showing he’s truly out of his funk. With the Mountaineers (31-20, 11-10 Big 12) a near lock to make their first NCAA Tournament appearance in 21 years, the trio of weekend games will serve mainly to decide WVU’s final place in the Big 12 regular season standings, and its overall resume heading into the postseason. At 20th in the RPI, if West Virginia wins the opener tonight, it could nail down the bid before the weekend even arrives.
The real insights, then, are revealed in the game within the game. Can Cramer show the last two outings weren’t just a flash of possibility, but the promise of a probable return to form? If he locks back in, it allows Mazey to build the entire line-up around the anchor of power and experience that is Cramer. If he can’t, then Mazey is forced to continue the shuffle with Cramer either held out of the line-up – he gave way to back-up Kevin Brophy in the midweek loss to Penn State – or hitting sixth with the likes of Kyle Davis and Braden Zarbnisky stepping into the four spot in the order.
“It’s getting there,” Cramer said. “Lately I have been getting a lot of 0-2 counts and they are pitching out over the plate and away from me. I have to change my approach with that. We haven’t felt like we were playing our best all year, and we are starting to put it together now.
“The feeling is coming. Hopefully, we get that same feeling in the Big 12 Tournament and go into a regional playing well. If we just take care of things now, I feel like we will be playing baseball for awhile. We aren’t trying to get caught up on that, just keep doing what we are doing, keep moving forward.”