May 7, 2016
Well, well it looks like Randy Mazey’s West Virginia University baseball team has a lot of fight in it after all.
A couple of weeks ago, following a 12-6 loss to Oklahoma on April 23rd which dropped the Mountaineers’ overall record to 19-18, things were not looking too good for his young ball club.
WVU lost the first game of the series to the Sooners on a throwing error in the 10th inning, and the following afternoon Mazey watched four different pitchers serve up 18 hits in 12-6 defeat.
But then the bats came alive in the final game of the series, West Virginia hitters putting 12 runs on the scoreboard on 14 hits against the Sooners – and they haven’t stopped swinging the bats since.
West Virginia, now 26-19, outslugged a pretty good Marshall team, 9-8, in Morgantown on April 27th, kept the bats going to take two out of three last weekend from Baylor, and have continued hacking right into Sunday’s series finale against Texas with three more victories, a midweek triumph against rival Virginia Tech last Wednesday, followed by a pair of important league wins against the Longhorns on Friday night and Saturday afternoon.
Particularly those Mountaineer hitters.
The last time West Virginia was hitting the ball this well so late in the season you have to go back 20 years to 1996, which, incidentally, was the last time West Virginia played in the NCAA Tournament.
WVU started that year losing four of its first 11, and was stumbling along at 20-21 late in April after dropping a three-game Big East series at St. John’s and losing two more midweek games to Virginia Tech.
Then, West Virginia went out to Notre Dame and took two out of three from the Irish and rode its potent lineup right into the conference tournament.
There, WVU got two great pitching performances from Chris Enochs, the first a complete-game shutout against Rutgers in game two of the tournament, and then, following a rainout that gave WVU’s ace an extra day’s rest, he was able to come back and get the save in the Mountaineers’ Big East championship-clinching, 7-4 victory over the Irish.
But as good as Enochs was, that ’96 team had threats in the lineup from one to nine, much like Mazey’s young team this year.
This is probably the most potent group of hitters Mazey has had in his four seasons at West Virginia, the Mountaineers batting .280 as a team before today’s victory over the Longhorns. This afternoon, West Virginia got 13 more hits to raise its season average to .282 – this coming against Big 12 pitching, mind you.
“When you’ve got good hitters at the top of your lineup, you’ve got good hitters in the middle of your lineup and you’ve got good hitters at the bottom of your lineup that means you have a chance to score runs in every inning,” said Mazey. “That’s what we’re doing right now.”
What is most eye-catching about this year’s team is the Mountaineers are doing this with a lineup littered with freshmen. Friday night’s starting lineup featured three rookies among the top four batters in the order, with two more freshmen hitting eighth and ninth.
And now, some of these young guys are really starting to jell.
“We’ve been saying all year that we’re a good team and it’s a matter of when we are going to start peaking and I think that’s right now,” said Davis.
That’s a very positive sign as the Mountaineers hit the home stretch of the regular season with their final conference home game tomorrow afternoon against Texas, followed by important midweek games coming up against Maryland and Pitt, a three-game weekend home series against William & Mary and then a three-game set at No. 8 Texas Tech to conclude the regular season.
And here is some more good news: with the exception of Texas, all of the teams left on West Virginia’s schedule have RPI’s of 108 or better, according to the website Warren Nolan.com. No. 48 Maryland coming up on Tuesday and next week’s game at No. 52 Pitt are two non-conference games worth keeping an eye on.
Of course, West Virginia, with an RPI hovering right around 100 before today’s win against Texas, still has a lot of work to do to even reach NCAA Tournament bubble consideration. Obviously, the more West Virginia wins the more it helps.
“We’ve got some great teams coming up and we’ve got to push through and win those,” noted Davis.
West Virginia is getting hot at the right time, and who knows, perhaps these young Mountaineer hitters can carry the team beyond the conference tournament, much like another group of Mountaineer hitters once did 20 years ago.