West Virginia brings nice momentum into the series with Oklahoma in Norman this weekend, having clipped Texas in the series finale on Sunday and then coming back and dominating Pitt in every facet of the game in a 9-1 bombing on Tuesday.
WVU head coach Randy Mazey has donned his Kreskin hat once again, this time to shuffle the lineup both defensively and offensively in order to get what is probably the best hitting lineup to the plate while not sacrificing much defensively.
After getting shelled by Texas, 11-0, in the second game of a doubleheader on Saturday, Mazey shuffled the batting order and also made a change at second base, which caused a switch at third, which caused a switch behind the plate.
Dayne Leonard has been the top catcher on the squad since the opener in Conway, South Carolina against Central Michigan. He’s been seen as the best defensive catcher and has been lauded for his work with the pitchers. Freshman J.J. Wetherholt had all 44 of his previous starts this season come at third, while sophomore Mikey Kluska had started 40 of 45 games at second base.
That didn’t stop Mazey from making the significant late season switch. Sunday’s lineup showed Wetherholt still in the two hole but starting at second base. Leonard was
dropped into the No. 7 slot while also shedding his catching gear and running out to third base. McGwire Holbrook slid from DH to catcher, which was already part of his role on Leonard’s days off, with sophomore Nathan Blasick inserted as DH, while Braden Barry moved up to fifth in the order.
Tuesday the lineup was much the same against Pitt, with the only change being Kevin Dowdell at DH instead of Blasick.
The response was immediate. WVU clipped Texas 8-6 after being left in a three-run hole
after the top of the first inning, and then blasted Pitt 9-1 behind a massive three-run bomb by Victor Scott and another three-run no-doubter by Barry.
West Virginia now trots out a lineup that doesn’t have a batter hitting below .260 until the eighth spot of the lineup, which is manned by former cleanup hitter Grant Hussey and his team-leading nine home runs. Only Tevin Tucker looks like an easy out at the plate, but that is deceiving, as despite his low batting average (.162), Tucker is third on the team in stolen bases with 19 and fourth in walks and runs scored.
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Pitching is always a key for the post-season for the Mountaineers, and this year is no different. As noted last week, WVU has suffered multiple weekends where the starting pitchers didn’t escape the fourth inning, much less the five to qualify for a win.
That changed significantly on Friday as Jacob Watters took the hill and fanned 15 batters in 6.2 innings in a competitive loss to the Longhorns. The rest of the weekend, however, continued to be unsettling as Ben Hampton was knocked out with one out in the fourth in the 11-0 smack-down, and Zach Bravo faced five batters in the first inning on Sunday, retiring one, walking two, allowing two hits and three runs before being forced from the game as a result of taking a liner to his pitching arm/hand.
On Tuesday, the roller coaster turned back upward, as freshman Aidan Major took the mound for the Mountaineers and threw an absolute gem. Major threw six-plus shutout innings, allowing no hits and no runs. He didn’t allow his first walk until the seventh, when two free passes ended his day, but not before he had helped WVU gain early control in the win.
Major has worked around control issues in earlier performances and is starting to step into the spotlight as someone who can start and keep the opponent from crossing the plate. Lowering his ERA to 2.66 while holding opposing hitters to a .164 batting average at the plate, Major is going to be relied upon heavily during the Big 12 tournament, and if WVU earns a berth in a Regional, he will have to toe the rubber in a crucial situation for the Mountaineers.
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WVU is in Oklahoma this weekend to face a 21st-ranked Sooner squad sitting one-half game ahead of the Mountaineers in the Big 12 standings. The three-game, Big 12 series begins tonight L. Mitchell Park, with first pitch is set for 7:30 p.m. ET. At 10-8 in the conference, WVU is only one game in the loss column out of second place, behind TCU at 13-8, Texas Tech at 11-7 and OU at 11-7.
The Mountaineers will again have to contend with a good hitting team, as the Sooners are third in the league with a .298 team batting average, including 64 home runs and 347 runs scored.
Meanwhile, WVU is last in the league with a .264 batting average (one of the motivators for the lineup changes of last week), with 43 homers and 300 runs scored.
Pitching though, sees a Mountaineer advantage, with WVU’s hurlers third in the Big 12 with a 4.72 ERA, 246 runs allowed (215 earned), and 433 strikeouts against 217 walks. OU is sixth in the league with a 5.48 ERA, allowing 285 runs (251 earned) and 46 homers.
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Most every national collegiate baseball outlet continues to rate WVU highly, including the Mountaineers in their NCAA Regional projections. The Mountaineers’ RPI of 36 coming off the win over Pitt would seem to be a lock for a berth should the Mountaineers hold their position. One projection forecasts WVU’s RPI for the regular season at No. 35, with a final conference record of 14-10, which would be a 3-3 record in the final six league games against OU and Kansas State.
That would be a 37 spot improvement over the final 2021 RPI for WVU, and a 14-10 league mark would be better than that produced by WVU’s two most recent regional teams of 2019 (13-11) and 2017 (12-12).
Getting off to a good start Friday night is going to be key for the Mountaineers, and a series win in Oklahoma could cement WVU’s plans for an NCAA trip.
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Barry and Blasick were named to the 2022 Academic All-District 2 First Team on Thursday, as selected by the College Sports Information Directors of America (CoSIDA).
The honor marks the first of both players’ careers. It’s also the first time a Mountaineer baseball player has been selected to the team since Jason Pape in 2007, as well as the first time multiple WVU players were named to the team since Lee Fritz and Zac Cline in 2003.
Next, Barry and Blasick advance to the CoSIDA Academic All-America National ballot, where first-, second- and third-team All-America honors will be selected in the coming weeks.
Barry, who hails from Louisville, Kentucky, is batting .308 with four home runs and 17 RBI in 2022. He also has stolen 15 bases to go along with 10 doubles, a triple and 22 runs scored. In all, Barry has started in 38 of the club’s 47 games this season.
Barry carries a 3.81 GPA as a finance major. He has appeared on the Dean’s List, Big 12 Commissioner’s Honor Roll and Garrett Ford Academic Honor Roll during his academic career. He also was a member of the 2021 Academic All-Big 12 Rookie Team.
A native of Halifax, Pennsylvania, Blasick is hitting .260 at the plate with three home runs, two doubles, a triple and 11 RBI this spring. He also has scored nine runs and has two stolen bases in 33 games played.
In the classroom, Blasick has maintained a GPA of 3.95 as a finance major. He has been named to the President’s and Dean’s Lists, as well as the Big 12 Commissioner’s and Garrett Ford Academic Honor Rolls. Additionally, he was a member of the Academic All-Big 12 Rookie Team last season.