Who would have thought this late in the season that Kansas and West Virginia would be right in the thick of this year’s Big 12 baseball race?
Well, that’s where both teams stand heading into a pivotal three-game series at Beckley’s Linda K. Eppling Stadium that begins Friday night.
Kansas (24-15, 9-6) was pegged for an eighth-place finish this year but the Jayhawks have had a much-better-than-expected season so far, taking two of three from TCU, Oklahoma State, Texas and Texas Tech to reach second place behind Oklahoma heading into this weekend’s action.
The Jayhawks have one of the most experienced pitching staffs in the Big 12 with three guys – Thomas Taylor, Frank Duncan and Tanner Poppe – sitting at three, four and five among active players in career innings pitched.
Taylor, 4-0 this year with a 2.47 ERA in nine appearances, is second among active pitchers in the Big 12 with 18 career victories. He will start Friday night’s game against West Virginia’s ace Harrison Musgrave
“He’s 4-0 with a miniscule ERA,” says first-year West Virginia coach Randy Mazey of Taylor. “When you join a league like the Big 12 you can expect nothing less than that on Friday night.”
Duncan, 3-4 this year, shows a 4.45 earned run average while Poppe is 2-3 with a 5.40 ERA. Wes Benjamin is another option in the rotation with a 4-4 record and a 4.50 ERA in 10 appearances this season. Kansas also has one of the best closers in the country in JC lefthander Jordan Piche’, who boasts an impressive 5-1 record with an 0.47 ERA and eight saves. Piche’ has been named Big 12 rookie of the week two times so far this year.
“We’ve happened to have some success against other team’s No. 1 pitcher, and, ironically, against other team’s closers,” said Mazey. “It seems like the better the arm that throws against us the better our approach is at the plate.”
The Jayhawks are sixth in the Big 12 in team pitching with a 3.66 ERA and fifth in hitting with a .278 team batting average.
Three Kansas regulars are currently hitting better than .300, led by Michael Suiter’s .354 average. Suiter recently enjoyed a 13-game hitting streak and is fifth in the Big 12 with 17 multi-hit games this season. Alex DeLeon is hitting .326 with five home runs and a team-best 33 RBI. DeLeon shows eight multi-RBI games this season and is fifth among active players in the conference with 15 home runs.
"They can really hit. They can really pitch. They steal a lot of bases, they play defense and they’re just an all-around good team,” said Mazey. “They might actually be the best team in the Big 12 this year. They are having a great year and we’re going to have our hands full for three straight days, that’s for sure.”
West Virginia, meanwhile, has won six of its last eight games, including taking two out of three at Texas to boost its overall record to 24-18. The Mountaineers have already exceeded their victory total from a year ago after Wednesday night’s 7-6 win at Youngstown State and are currently sixth in the Big 12 ahead of TCU, Texas and Texas Tech.
West Virginia claimed a three-game series against Texas Tech in Charleston earlier this year while picking up single wins at Kansas State and Baylor to bring a 6-6 league record into this weekend’s series.Ryan Tuntland
(.370) is one of three regulars currently hitting better than .300 for the Mountaineers, with Arkansas transfer Jacob Rice
also batting at a .342 clip and Bobby Boyd
hitting .325. Ryan McBroom
(eight) and Matt Frazer
(six) have combined for 14 home runs and 62 RBI so far this season.
Friday’s starting pitcher Harrison Musgrave
shows a 6-1 record with a 2.70 ERA and 46 strikeouts in 63.1 innings of work. Last Friday night at Texas, Musgrave tossed a complete-game shutout to earn Big 12 and national pitcher of the week honors.
Right-hander Dan Dierdorff
(2-5, 4.78 ERA) was the starting pitcher in Saturday’s loss to the Longhorns while left-hander John Means
(3-2, 3.05 ERA) started Sunday’s win against the Longhorns. Right-hander Corey Walter
(3-4, 4.41 ERA) also pitched effectively in relief in Sunday’s win.
Friday’s game will get underway at 6:30 p.m., first pitch for Saturday’s game will be at 4 p.m. and Sunday’s game will start at 1 p.m.
Friday’s game has been designated a Gold Rush and advanced tickets can be purchased for $7 by calling 304-252-SAFE; tickets are $9 at the gate on game day.