May 28, 2016
West Virginia is now just a victory in tomorrow’s Big 12 baseball championship game away from snapping its 20-year NCAA Tournament drought.
And after scanning what others are writing, saying and tweeting, it looks like the hottest team in college baseball right now is probably going to have to win that one, too, against either TCU or Texas to extend its season.
College baseball expert Kendall Rogers, editor and national writer for the website DIBaseball.com, tweeted this earlier today when asked about WVU’s NCAA chances following this morning’s 10-run-rule win over Oklahoma in the Big 12 semifinals, “They have to win it. But, boy, they are playing well.”
Indeed, West Virginia is playing well right now, perhaps as good as any team in the country.
Since losing 12-6 at Oklahoma on Saturday, April 23, the Mountaineers have won 17 out of their last 20 games to boost their overall record to 36-21 heading into tomorrow afternoon’s conference championship game.
It’s the most wins for a Randy Mazey-coached team in four seasons at WVU, and the most victories since West Virginia won 37 games and finished third in the Big East Conference in 2009. WVU didn’t get an at-large bid that season, nor did it get one in 2006 when it won 36 games, or in 2003 when it won 36, or in 1998 when it won 37 games or in 1997 when it also won 36.
In fact, since the modern NCAA Tournament setup, West Virginia has NEVER earned an at-large bid – all of them coming via a conference tournament championship-game win.
But playing in the Big 12 will help West Virginia’s case this year, as will its performance on the field over the last month of the season.
Since that six-run loss to Oklahoma, West Virginia has beaten Oklahoma, Marshall, which is playing Southern Miss this afternoon for the right to advance to the C-USA championship game, and defeated Baylor twice. It took games from Virginia Tech and Pitt of the ACC, posted a non-conference win over a winning Big Ten program in Maryland, swept a three-game series from Texas, swept a three-game series from William & Mary, which is playing UNC Wilmington in the Colonial championship game this afternoon, beat eighth-ranked Texas Tech twice and added two more victories against Oklahoma in the Big 12 Tournament to reach tomorrow’s championship game.
That’s eight wins for West Virginia over RPI top 100 teams in its last 20 games, including two over the top-15-ranked Red Raiders.
Based purely on those two ratings, though, it appears West Virginia is still tapping on the window.
But then again, there is the case of Oregon, which got into last year’s NCAA Tournament with a regular season record of 37-23 and an RPI of 66. The Ducks, like the Mountaineers, got hot at the end of the year by winning 14 of the last 17 games, including a regular-season-ending win over UCLA in 11 innings to sneak into the tournament.
Clearly, Oregon benefitted by playing in the Pac-12 Conference last year, rated the third-best baseball league in the country.
Well, guess where the Big 12 is rated right now? No. 3.
That gives West Virginia some hope no matter what happens tomorrow afternoon in Oklahoma City. The question is: will the committee be considering the Mountaineer team that lost to No. 233 Charleston Southern and No. 196 Canisius earlier this season, or, will it be evaluating the one playing its best baseball of the season right now?
Mazey is only worried about one thing right now – winning the program’s first conference postseason tournament championship since 1996 when West Virginia was in its second season in the Big East.
“You have to operate one game at a time,” he said after this morning’s blowout win over the Sooners. “You try not to think ahead too much. It’s all about focusing on one day at a time and one pitch at a time.
“You aren’t going to find better baseball anywhere,” Mazey added. “It’s really fun to know our program has come to this point this fast. Two wins against Oklahoma in OKC and a win against a top 10 team (regular season champion Texas Tech) is a pretty big deal.”
It is a pretty big deal, but will it be a big enough deal in the eyes of NCAA Tournament selection committee?
Of course, all of this is moot if the Mountaineers can take care of business tomorrow afternoon and become a “bid thief.”
First pitch is scheduled for 2 p.m. ET.