CLEARWATER, FLA. - A mix of veteran leadership of 10 seniors and the pleasant surprise of the development of several underclassmen has the Mountaineer baseball team making its fifth trip to the BIG EAST Championship in the last six seasons.
West Virginia arrived in Clearwater, Fla., on Monday morning to begin preparation for the 2011 BIG EAST Championship at Bright House Field. The Mountaineers enter as the No. 4 seed after posting a winning record in conference play for the second time in the last three years.
“It was good to get on the field and acclimated to the heat down here in Clearwater,” said coach Greg Van Zant. “Our guys worked hard for about three hours.”
WVU cruised past Rutgers 14-5 last Saturday, the final day of the regular season, to secure a 14-13 BIG EAST record and 28-25 overall mark.
Van Zant's team has qualified for the BIG EAST Championship for the 10th time in his 16 seasons coaching in the league. The 14 regular-season conference wins are tied for the fifth-most in Van Zant’s tenure at the school.
“Winning Saturday against Rutgers was huge for our team,” said Van Zant. “It meant the difference between finishing in fourth or eighth place in the league standings and guaranteed us another winning season.”
WVU will face No. 5 seed Seton Hall in its tournament opening game on Wednesday at 5 p.m. The Mountaineers claimed two wins in the three-game series in Morgantown on April 21-23.
“Seton Hall is going to be a big challenge for us,” Van Zant said. “Their pitching is outstanding, and they are playing very good baseball right now.”
The Pirates have won seven of their last nine conference games including three-game sweeps over Louisville and Georgetown.
Redshirt freshman left-hander Marshall Thompson is expected to take the hill for the Mountaineers against Seton Hall. Thompson shows a 5-3 record with a 4.59 ERA this season and has a team-high 47 strikeouts.
“Marshall Thompson gives you a chance to win every time he goes to the mound,” Van Zant said. “We held him out of the Rutgers series so that he would be well-rested for this BIG EAST Championship outing.”
The Mountaineers have battled through several key injuries that could have devastated their season. Clean-up hitter Matt Frazer was sidelined for the season with a broken leg in early March and weekend starting pitcher Harrison Musgrave suffered an arm injury in late April that ended his season. Also, senior catcher Kevin Griffin has battled a quad injury most of the season and has played in only 10 BIG EAST contests, while right-handed bullpen ace Marcus Broadwater was lost early in the season after sustaining an elbow injury.
Van Zant was excited to get power hitter Dan DiBartolomeo back in the lineup against Rutgers after the second baseman sat out 14 conference games with a shoulder injury. DiBartolomeo made his first game back a good one last Saturday as he went 4-for-5 with a homer and three RBIs.
“Dan DiBartolomeo is one of the top hitters in the country and getting his bat back into the lineup Saturday against Rutgers was a huge boost for our team,” Van Zant said.
West Virginia will need to continue the momentum from Saturday’s offensive performance and much of that starts with leadoff hitter Brady Wilson.
“I feel like I’ve done a pretty good job here (lately) getting on base,” Wilson said. “Hopefully, I can continue that through the tournament.”
Getting timely hitting and quality pitching will be what WVU needs to claim the school’s first league title since 1996.NOTES
- West Virginia will have a light workout at 12:30 p.m. at the Bright House Field complex on Tuesday before the BIG EAST opening ceremonies begin at 6:30 p.m., followed by the home run derby and a fireworks show.
- Griffin will be the Mountaineers' representative in the home run derby. A right-handed hitter, he will be pitched to by assistant coach Pat Sherald.
Here are the home run participants and their numbers:Home Run Derby Participants
Cincinnati – Justin Riddell (.360, 9 HR, 67 RBI)
Connecticut – George Springer (.379, 12 HR, 72 RBI)
Louisville – Cade Stallings (.228, 4 HR, 23 RBI)
Notre Dame – David Casey (.130, 0 HR, 1 RBI)
Pittsburgh – David Chester (.339, 14 HR, 57 RBI)
St. John’s – Rowan Wick (.184, 3 HR, 14 RBI)
Seton Hall – Will Walsh (.203, 4 HR, 17 RBI)
West Virginia – Kevin Griffin (.282, 2 HR, 12 RBI)
- WVU will play the winner/loser of No. 1 seed Connecticut and No. 8 Notre Dame, who play at 8 p.m. on Wednesday. The Mountaineers took two of three from the Irish in South Bend, but did not face UConn during the regular season. The BIG EAST Championship is a double elimination formatted tournament.
- Fans can watch the home run derby and each game live via web stream at www.BIGEASTBaseball.com