Early Runs, Veteran Leadership Part Of WVU’s Baseball Surge
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Back before the 2019 WVU baseball season began, veterans such as Darius Hill and Ivan Gonzalez noted that senior leadership would be crucial if the Mountaineers were going to make a push for the postseason. After just missing out on NCAA Tournament bids in two of the past three seasons, the returnees knew that they were close, but that they would need to bring along a crop of youngsters and newcomers quickly in order to get the additional wins needed to make the change from bubble team to one that was safely in the field.
Fast forward to mid-April, and there’s no doubt that the teaching process has been a successful one. Freshmen Tevin Tucker and Austin Davis, along with sophomore juco transfer Paul McIntosh, have been regulars in the lineup, and that’s just the half of it. On the mound, Ryan Bergret, Madison Jeffrey, Brock Helverson, Gabe Kurtzhals, Beau Lowery and Zach Ottinger, all freshmen, have performed well in various relief roles. Though they have had their highs and lows, Hill said they have responded well to mentoring from club veterans.
“Just continue to play hard. It’s a long season, and you are going to have ups and downs,” Hill said of the message that is preached to those working through their first year in Division I. “We have all experienced them, we’ve all seen them. We just have to grind through (the downs) and keep playing.”
The rookies saw that in action early in the season, when WVU’s bats weren’t exactly booming. However, attention to all aspects of the game, such as aggressiveness on the basepaths, defense, and solid pitching from the front of the rotation to the back, has kept the Mountaineers in games. Even a tough 0-3 Big 12 start wasn’t enough to send West Virgina into a tailspin.
“We know we are going against a really good team every weekend, and we have to bring it. Baylor, it was probably good that it woke us up,” Hill said of the opening league series of the season. The Mountaineers lost all three games on that road trip to Waco, but by then the lessons had at least started to sink in.
After that beginning, WVU won three consecutive series against conference foes, all of which were ranked in the Top 25 at the time. The Mountaineers are now tied for fourth in the league at 6-6, and are just one game out of second. Conversely, they are just 1/2 game ahead of seventh-place Texas, demonstrating the quality and tight competition that exists in the Big 12.
Helping the Mountaineers recover from that 0-3 start has been improvement at the plate, especially early in games. Prior to Sunday’s loss to Texas Tech, the Mountaineers had scored in the first inning in five of their previous six games. WVU has scored first in 26 of its 35 games this year.
“Especially in Big 12 games, the other team is going to be throwing quality arms, and have quality bats, so getting ahead early is crucial if we are going to have a chance to win,” Hill observed of the focus on getting off to a good start. “Obviously we got off to a slow start offensively but everyone is getting involved now. It changes who is getting the big hit in every game.”
* * * * * *
WVU has very good in mid-week games, going 7-1 so far this year, and hopes to keep its all-around good play going when is faces Penn State on Wednesday, April 16 in State College, Pennsylvania. PSU is 42-15 against the Mountaineers on home ground, although the Mountaineers have won the last two games in 2017 and 2018 at a neutral site — PNC Park in Pittsburgh.