“Wow, what a relief” was how West Virginia University baseball coach Randy Mazey began his postgame press conference following Wednesday morning’s 10-9 victory over third-seeded Kansas on the opening day of the Phillips 66 Big 12 Baseball Championships in Oklahoma City, Okla.
The Mountaineers used an eight-run seventh to overcome an 8-2 deficit to knock off the 34-23 Jayhawks, which will face Baylor early tomorrow morning in an elimination game.
“We never give up, which is a great mentality to have,” said Mazey.
Perhaps it was only coincidental that West Virginia came alive in the seventh, considering the Mountaineers were bringing a seven-game losing streak into the postseason, or maybe it wasn’t considering West Virginia overcame a five-run deficit in the seventh inning last year to beat Oklahoma State on this very field.
“It’s amazing how if any of you are golfers, that sometimes there is a course you play that you just play better on,” said Mazey. “The last game we played before today on this field, we were down five runs in the seventh inning against Oklahoma State and came back and won that game. The guys got together in the dugout and said been here, done that. It’s going to take one spark to get this going.”
West Virginia (28-24) has been looking for a spark ever since May 6 when it beat Virginia Tech, 4-3, in Princeton, W.Va.
Ensuing three-game sweeps at Kansas and Texas Tech, with a midweek loss at Maryland sandwiched in there, put what appeared to be a certain NCAA tournament at-large bid on hold.
Five of those seven defeats were by two runs or less – the 15th time this season that West Virginia dropped a game by two runs or less. And the last two weeks, the Mountaineers were losing games every way imaginable.
Against Kansas it was the bullpen that struggled to hold late leads, while at Texas Tech time and again Mountaineer hitters couldn’t come up with the big hit to put them over the top. West Virginia stranded 30 runners during the three-game series against the Red Raiders, including 22 in scoring position.
Today, West Virginia’s hitters came through, eventually getting to Jayhawk ace Jordan Piche’ and then touching up reliever Drew Morovick for four earned runs in just a third of an inning.
Then, closer Sean Carley
came on in the eighth and bailed West Virginia out of a major jam before closing things out in the ninth – something he failed to do in Lawrence two weekends ago.
“It was a good win and it should help us carry momentum moving forward,” said Mazey.
It was a good win and it couldn’t have come at a better time for WVU, especially considering bubble teams such as Tennessee, North Carolina, Texas A&M and Illinois dropped conference tournament games earlier today.
West Virginia’s RPI is now 28 following the victory over No. 39 Kansas - another bubble team, although the Jayhawks appear to be on the safer side of the bubble - and no program in the country being considered for the NCAA tournament field of 64 has traveled to as many different places as the Mountaineers have this year.
“To do what we’ve done with this team, with all the travel and adversity, it seems like this team has learned to thrive on adversity,” said Mazey.
By the end of this week West Virginia will have played at least 41 games away from its home facility - that’s more than 75 percent of its entire schedule coming on a foreign field.
What other bubble team can say that?
Right now, West Virginia has faced the 18th-toughest schedule in the country, easily the most difficult slate in school history, with 38 of its 52 games so far being played against RPI top 100 teams and 24 of those coming against the RPI top 50.
Those figures certainly bode well for the Mountaineers.
However, West Virginia was swept four times by TCU, Oklahoma State, Kansas and Texas Tech, and it ended the regular season five games under .500 in the Big 12, which, by the way, happens to be the second-toughest conference in the country this year.
How will the committee view that?
Furthermore, will the committee put five or six Big 12 teams into this year’s NCAA tournament?
West Virginia likely holds the answer to that question.
Twenty eight wins right now and an RPI that will be right around 30 after this weekend might already be enough to get the Mountaineers into the Big Dance for the first time since 1996.
But to be safe, it would behoove them to just keep on winning to make next Monday afternoon a lot less stressful when the tournament field is unveiled - starting early Thursday evening against 19th-ranked TCU.
“I’ll leave the must-wins and the decisions up to the committee. I think we are very deserving,” Mazey concluded.