WVU’s baseball team was picked to finish last in the Big 12 this season. Unanimously, in fact, with just eight points in the coaches’ preseason poll. There are just nine baseball teams in the 10-team Big 12, but sources told me Iowa State, sans baseball since 2001, was above WVU in a preliminary straw poll. Let’s keep that between us, OK?
But that? That can be accepted as sensible. Coach Randy Mazey even made it useful upon hearing the news in February.
“Fellas,” Mazey said, “I’ve got some really good news I want to share with you. Everyone in the league voted you last place. Nobody thinks you can do anything. They think you’re by far the worst team in the league. And that’s really good for us. If people underestimate what the Mountaineers are capable of this year, that could be dangerous for them.”
Today, entering the final game, maybe ever, at Hawley Field, the Mountaineers find themselves nine games above .500 and in third place in the Big 12 standings … with a three-game series coming up this weekend against conference-leading, preseason favorite Oklahoma in Charleston. And since today is a non-conference game against Pitt, none of that is changing before the showdown at Appalachian Power Park.
Given the reputation of Mazey and the influence he has on a pitching staff and the feeling I got in the preseason that he recruited a couple of good players, I’m willing to admit that third place, at 9-6 in the league, isn’t totally nonsensical. Find a lineup, get a hot pitcher, win the close games and it’ll happen in baseball.
It’s not a regular, or even a guaranteed thing, but given how that’s all happening at WVU and under the leadership of who is likely the conference coach of the year, hey, why downplay it?
What makes no sense whatsoever is that WVU is 14-1 at home with 11 straight wins. And there have been three homes. Tonight’s game is the eighth and final one on campus on a schedule that has 56 regular-season games. This is a test tonight. The Sooners have to be on WVU’s mind, but the Panthers are very good.
Pitt (32-10, 12-3 Big East) most recently swept Cincinnati last weekend and is led offensively by junior Casey Roche, who is batting .358 with eight doubles, two triples, nine homers, 53 RBIs and 10 stolen bases. As a team, the Panthers are batting .303 with 42 home runs and 59 stolen bases.
Roche also will get the start on the mound, where he has made two appearances this season. Roche is 0-0 with a 3.86 ERA, allowing three runs in 7.0 innings with one strikeout.