WVU Keys For Big 12 Baseball Championship
By: Kevin Kinder
West Virginia opens the Big 12 baseball championship on Wednesday morning at 10:00 a.m. ET with a game against Baylor. The Mountaineers hold a 2-1 edge over the Bears this year, but that might not be the most important item to consider as we analyze their chances in the event.
The double elimination format of the Big 12’s postseason event doesn’t follow the “normal” structure of a winners and a losers bracket, with the team emerging from the latter having to beat the victor of the former twice in a row to gain the title. Instead, the Big 12, along with several other leagues, splits the teams into two divisions up front, with a “mini” losers bracket in each. One of the major reasons for this? The elimination of a potential second game on championship Sunday in the event that the top team in the losers’ bracket knocks off the survivor of the winners’, as can happen in the traditional setup.
With the two division format, all of that is settled on Saturday, with a second game, if necessary, between the finalists in each of the two divisions being played in case the team with one loss comes up with a victory. That’s for television purposes as much as anything, as it prevents uncertain Sunday scheduling, although it also helps the finalists get out of town and back to campus in preparation for likely trips to the NCAA Tournament in the week ahead.
The Mountaineers actually got a pretty good draw here. They are in Division 1, along with number one seed Texas Tech and number eight Oklahoma State. The Mountaineers own series wins over the Bears and Cowboys, and played the Red Raiders well in dropping a 2-1 series decision. All three games were one-run affairs. Get by Baylor, and then it’s a chance to win on Thursday and enjoy a day off – a bonus for the two teams that win their first two games of the tournament. The Mountaineers did just that a year ago, and getting that rest day, especially for the bullpen, could be the difference.
That ties in to pitching overall, which is always a difference-maker in the tightly-packed schedule of games. Teams with two or three dependable starters that can eat innings have a magnified advantage in the post-season, especially if they can start on shorter rest than they did in the regular season. The question is, can they be as effective with a change in their rotation schedule?
For example, WVU starters BJ Myers and Alek Manoah will be counted on in Oklahoma City. Will Myers be ready to go on Wednesday morning, two days earlier than what he usually does? Will Manoah, who can tire and who has just one start that lasted past the sixth inning, give WVU innings as he did against Oklahoma, when he was stellar over eight? Will Michael Grove, who was judged to not be ready to return to action in the Texas series, be available for at least a few innings? He likely won’t be pushed into an extended outing his first or second time out, but if he could give the Mountaineers a handful of outs, that could be a big boost. Will the third starter (Kade Strowd? Isaiah Kerns?) get over inconsistency issues and keep WVU in play for four or five innings?
The other question for WVU is one of momentum. Randy Mazey’s team didn’t fold in late non-conference games, thus avoiding the negative perceptions that kept it out of the NCAA Tournament last year, but the fact remains that it also hasn’t won a Big 12 series since April 8. That’s four consecutive series losses, which explains the 12-12 final regular season league record. Tournament play is a different animal, though, with rematches only occurring rarely, so the dynamics of a three-game set are eliminated. Those are replaced, though, by the increased pressure – it only takes two strikes, not three, to send a team home.
- WVU is the only school to record back-to-back home runs in the championship event. Ryan McBroom and Brady Wilson recorded the double on May 25, 2013 vs. Oklahoma State in the sixth inning.
- Oklahoma City has hosted the championship for all but three years of its 21-year existence. Arlington, Tex. (two) and Tulsa (one) are the other cities that have held the event.
- Number four seeds have a 39-39 overall record in the championship.
- WVU is 6-6 overall and 0-1 vs Baylor in the championship.