Improved Pitching a Boost to WVU
West Virginia’s Big 12 series win over Texas Tech last weekend in Charleston was probably its best series triumph since taking two of three from Louisville back in 2008.
That year, the Cardinals were coming off a College World Series appearance and went on to claim another Big East title and NCAA tournament appearance.
Last weekend, West Virginia defeated the Red Raiders by scores of 2-0 and 3-1 after dropping the sandwich game in 10 innings, 6-4, despite the Mountaineers nearly overcoming a late 4-0 deficit. Texas Tech came into last weekend’s games having knocked off nationally ranked Arizona State and also taking two of three from Texas in the opening week of conference play.
“This is one of the better teams in the league, so we’re showing everybody that we belong where we’re at,” noted West Virginia coach Randy Mazey.
Where the Mountaineers are at right now is 3-3 in Big 12 play after the first two weeks of the season, having dropped a pair of one-run games at Kansas State after taking game one, 13-2.
Speaking of one-run games, if not for five one-run losses and three extra inning defeats so far this season, West Virginia’s overall record would be much better than its current 10-13 standing heading into Tuesday afternoon’s game at Eastern Kentucky.
Still, West Virginia is performing much better than it did last year when it finished nine games under .500 and failed to qualify for the Big East tournament. The reason is simple - across the board, the Mountaineers are pitching much better than they did last year.
West Virginia is allowing fewer runs, walks, hits and extra base hits per game, while its weekend starters Harrison Musgrave, Corey Walter and John Means have combined to win seven of their 10 decisions so far this year.
Against the Red Raiders last weekend, Musgrave took a shutout into the seventh before giving way to the bullpen. The sophomore lefthander allowed just two hits in 6 2/3 innings on the way to a 2-0 victory.
A day later, Means, a junior college transfer, closed the door on the Red Raiders with eight strong innings in a 3-1 victory. And once again, the Mountaineer bullpen came to the rescue.
“Our pitchers have been pitching really well out of the bullpen,” Mazey noted. “They have been over achieving and we’ve just got to continue to get better every time out.”
If West Virginia can continue to get the kind of starting pitching from Musgrave and Means for the rest of the season, who knows how many Big 12 games the Mountaineers can win this season?
“The funny thing is, they are such different pitchers,” Mazey admitted. “Harrison is more of a power guy and Means is more of a soft-throwing, finesse guy, but nobody gets comfortable in the box because you don’t know what speed his pitches are coming. A lot of them are slow, slow and slower, but he does a great job. He is a guy who can pitch behind in the count because he’s got good off-speed pitches that he can throw for strikes.”
Although he may not possess Musgrave’s arm strength, Means was drafted once out of high school, going in the 46th round to the Atlanta Braves before choosing to attend Fort Scott (Kan.) Community College. He won all six of his decisions with a 1.14 ERA there last season and he clearly knows how to pitch by keeping hitters off stride with a devastating changeup.
“We call it the Bugs Bunny changeup,” joked Mazey. “You can swing at that thing twice on the way to home plate, but it works for him and it makes his fastball that much faster.”
Musgrave, on the other hand, has pretty good velocity after recovering nicely from Tommy John surgery that wiped out his sophomore season in 2012. The Bridgeport, W.Va., resident leads the staff with 30 strikeouts and is coming off a career-best 13-K performance against the Red Raiders last Friday night.
Mazey actually thought Musgrave had better stuff the week prior against Kansas State when he limited the Wildcats to just two runs on two hits in 6 1/3 innings of work.
“He had all three pitches (against Kansas State) and (Friday) it was predominantly fastball-changeup, but he used his changeup effectively and the majority of his strikeouts probably came on fastballs,” said Mazey. “He did a good job of setting up the hitters with the changeup and finishing them with the fastball.”
More importantly, Musgrave did a great job of setting the tone for the weekend with an outstanding, series-opening performance against Texas Tech’s No. 1 pitcher.
“Texas Tech was a hot team coming in and they felt really good about themselves and I think Harrison Musgrave kind of squelched that on Friday night and gave our guys a lot of energy and took it away from them,” said Mazey. “In baseball, momentum and energy means a lot and we seemed like we had it the whole weekend.”
After two weeks of play West Virginia is right in the thick of things in the Big 12. Certainly there will be tougher weekends ahead, but the Mountaineers have already given themselves a fighting chance to make this year’s eight-team Big 12 tournament, taking place at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark in Oklahoma City, Okla., May 22-26.
“We’re not going to be a pushover in this league,” Mazey said. “We’re going to come out and play hard and hopefully scratch our way toward the middle, and then to the top of this league.”
West Virginia has this weekend off in conference play, taking on New Orleans in a four-game series in Morgantown, before resuming Big 12 action April 5-7 at Baylor.
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