WVU Baseball Team Has More Goals In Sight
The Mountaineer baseball team already has accomplished some outstanding achievements this season, but it has further goals still in its sights.
By taking two of three games at Kansas State this past weekend, WVU (31-18, 13-11 Big 12) won its sixth Big 12 Conference series of the season, which is its most conference series victories since it won six Big East series in 2003. West Virginia also secured its 13th Big 12 Conference win of the season, which is its most since it also posted a 13-11 record in 2013, its inaugural season in the league.
The Mountaineers have completed conference play for the regular season, as their final four games until tournament time all are non-league games – Pitt at PNC Park on Tuesday and three games against George Washington at Monongalia Country Ballpark Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
Though its conference slate is complete, WVU will keep a close eye on its Big 12 brethren this coming week, as Randy Mazey’s club still has another target it hopes to reach. West Virginia’s 13-11 league record currently puts it in fourth place in the conference. Oklahoma State (12-9 in the Big 12 and 30-17 overall) is just ahead in third place. The Cowboys, who are ranked No. 13 nationally, host No. 12 Baylor (14-6/32-13) in a three-game set this Thursday-Saturday. Because West Virginia took two of three games from OK State earlier this season, OSU needs to win at least two of three from the Bears, who are currently No. 1 in the conference, to keep WVU from moving into third place in the final Big 12 standings. The Mountaineers have never finished that high since joining the league in 2014. Their best previous finish was fourth, which they achieved in both 2016 and 2017.
Third is the highest West Virginia can finish this year in the Big 12. It could also drop down to fifth, but to do so, TCU (10-11/28-21) will have to sweep its three-game series from No. 10 Texas Tech (14-7/34-14) this week in Lubbock. Anything less will leave the Horned Frogs behind WVU. None of the other league teams trailing Texas Christian – Oklahoma (9-12/31-20), Kansas (9-12/28-24), Kansas State (8-13/25-28) and Texas (6-14/25-25) – can catch West Virginia.
So the Mountaineers, who are ranked No. 21 this week, can finish anywhere from third to five in the league in the regular season heading into the Big 12 Championship, which will take place from May 22-26 in Oklahoma City.
WVU will also almost certainly have baseball left to play after OKC. West Virginia is a virtual lock to make the 64-team field for the NCAA Tournament, which starts on May 31 with the regional rounds that are held on 16 campus sites.
The Mountaineers hope to be awarded the opportunity to host a regional for just the second-time in their baseball history. WVU hosted Wake Forest in 1955 in a best-of-three series. West Virginia lost in a decisive third game that year to the Demon Deacons, who went on to win the NCAA championship a few weeks later.
WVU is right on the edge when it comes to being awarded the opportunity to host a regional this year, which will be decided by the NCAA Selection Committee. West Virginia is currently No. 17 in the RPI, and while the selection committee doesn’t have to follow that rating system when it comes to picking the field in general and the 16 regional hosts, it’s usually pretty close. Thus if the Mountaineers want to remain in consideration to host, they can’t slip much if any in the RPI. They will have to take care of business not only against Pitt (20-31, RPI No. 196) and George Washington (30-22, RPI No. 219) to close out the regular season but then during its Big 12 Championship appearance, which can feature as many as six more games.
West Virginia’s hosting hopes got a lift on Sunday when it rallied with a four-run eighth inning to beat Kansas State, 7-4, at Tointon Family Stadium in Manhattan, Kansas.
“What a huge game,” Mazey said. “I knew it was huge, I tried not to let the players know how huge it was, but it gives us a chance, a legitimate chance, to finish in third place in the league. After starting the conference season 0-4, to come back to 13-11 and put ourselves in this position, it’s been a great, great regular season.”
West Virginia jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first inning in Sunday’s Big 12 regular-season finale, but the Wildcats (25-28, 8-13 Big 12) rallied to take a 4-3 lead in the seventh. However, WVU came right back with four runs in the eighth to regain a 7-4 advantage.
WVU’s seven runs came on 15 hits. Junior center fielder Brandon White led the way with three hits and two RBIs, and sophomore second baseman Tyler Doanes had three hits with one RBI. Junior first baseman Marques Inman had two hits and two RBIs, with the help of a two-run home run in the first inning, his team-high-tying ninth long ball of the season.
“We out-hit them the whole game, but didn’t get any breaks,” Mazey added. “We hit three balls right to the fence, that they were touching the fence when they were caught. Darius (Hill) got robbed of a double early in the game down the right-field line, so we actually deserved to win that game, but we had to earn it. That inning we scored four in late, after they punched us in the mouth, was a testament to how our guys have played the whole season.”
Junior right-hander Sam Kessler pitched the final 2.0 innings and picked up the save. It was his eighth of the season, tied for second most in a single season in program history, and 13th of his career, tied for third in the Mountaineer record books. After WVU took the lead, Kessler held K-State to one hit with a strikeout and no walks.
Freshman righty Zach Ottinger collected the win and improved to 2-0 on the season. He came in and got the final out of the seventh inning, leaving two runners on base. Junior right-handed starter Kade Strowd gave up four runs, three earned, on five hits with five strikeouts and three walks in 6.2 innings. He earned his fifth quality start of the season.
For the third consecutive day, a home run gave the Mountaineers a first-inning lead. Sunday’s was courtesy of Inman’s two-run shot with two outs. That scored senior right fielder Darius Hill, who reached on an infield single to set up Inman.
Kansas State got a run back in the bottom half of the first, as a two-out single made it 2-1. The base hit came after a throwing error, and the run was unearned.
Strowd retired the next eight batters he faced, with perfect innings in the second and third. He gave up a one-out single in the fourth, but stranded the runner at third.
West Virginia took a 3-1 lead in the fifth on a sacrifice fly by White that scored junior left fielder TJ Lake, who led off the inning with a single.
K-State cut the lead back to one, at 3-2, with a sacrifice fly in the sixth, and took a 4-3 lead in the seventh. A two-out single scored the tying run before Ottinger relieved Strowd with two on. He allowed an RBI single, but escaped further damage with a groundout to end the inning and leave runners on the corners.
The Mountaineers answered right back with four runs on four hits in the eighth inning to regain a 7-4 lead. The inning began with a leadoff single by Inman, and sophomore designated hitter Paul McIntosh walked to put two on. Senior catcher Ivan Gonzalez then singled to right-center to score freshman pinch runner Austin Davis from second to tie the game. Another walk loaded the bases for Lake, who hit a sacrifice fly that allowed McIntosh to score with the help of an obstruction call on K-State’s catcher. That gave West Virginia a 5-4 lead, but another sacrifice fly, this one by Doanes, made it 6-4, and White followed with an RBI single for WVU’s fourth run of the inning.
Kessler came in and stranded a runner on third in the eighth inning and pitched a 1-2-3 ninth to seal the win.
WVU travels to PNC Park in Pittsburgh for the Backyard Brawl against Pitt on Tuesday, May 14, at 6 p.m. ET. West Virginia will play at the home of the Pittsburgh Pirates for the third consecutive year, after wins in 2017 and 2018.
Notes: West Virginia improved 16-13 on the road … Sam Kessler earned his eighth save of the season, tied for second-most in a single season in program history, while it was the 13th of his career, tied for third-most in WVU history … Marques Inman hit his team-high-tying ninth home run of the season and team-best 18th of his career in the first inning … WVU homered in the first inning in all three games of the series … Kade Strowd gave up four runs, three earned, in 6.2 innings and earned his fifth quality start of the season.