MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — In splitting its first two Big 12 series, West Virginia hasn’t portrayed the overmatched team some expected upon moving into one of the nation’s tougher baseball leagues.
Then again, holding serve against Kansas State and Texas Tech — two teams picked to finish in the bottom half of the conference — isn’t necessarily an indication of the powerhouses WVU is about to encounter.
On Friday the Mountaineers (16-13, 3-3) begin a three-game series at Baylor, a program that has made 13 NCAA appearances in the past 14 seasons. The Bears, winners of 49 games last season who fell one win shy of the College World Series, were predicted to finish fourth in the Big 12 this season.
Game 1: Friday, 7:35 p.m. Eastern
Game 2: Saturday, 4:05 p.m. Eastern
Game 3: Sunday 2:05 p.m. Eastern
Radio: Mountaineers Sports Network (WAJR 1440 AM in Morgantown). Links to live audio and stats at WVUsports.com
While eager to face a Baylor squad far more talented than its record (14-15, 3-2), some WVU players are equally excited about the atmosphere in Waco, where 80-degree weather could bring crowds in excess of 3,000 for each game.
“I’m expecting a big crowd with rowdy fans,” said WVU’s Game 1 starter Harrison Musgrave, who was dominant in winning his first two Big 12 starts. “When we played at K-State they were on spring break, and we played in cold weather down in Charleston against Texas Tech, so this could be our first really big crowd.”
Energized crowds were rare in the Big East, outside of the occasional trip to Louisville, so Musgrave (4-1, 3.70 ERA) said he’ll be pumped Friday to face Baylor’s Dillon Newman (3-2, 2.42). In his two league starts, Musgrave is 2-0 with a 1.38 earned-run average, bolstered by 19 strikeouts in 13 innings.
“Most of my pitches are working,” said the sophomore left-hander. “They’re keeping people off balance and keeping them from sitting on my fastball.”
Musgrave rested Tuesday night but enjoyed WVU’s 10-2 victory, tweeting “Finished whoopin Marshalls terrible ass.” That was the Mountaineers’ seventh straight victory.
Right-hander Corey Walter (2-2, 4.01 ERA), coming off a complete-game victory over New Orleans, takes the mound Saturday for West Virginia.
MEANS MAKING NOISE
The Mountaineers’ other lefty starter, sophomore John Means (3-1, 1.86), is slated to pitch Sunday with an ERA that leads the rotation. The Kansas native said his dad plans to be in Waco for the series finale.
As of last summer, Means fully expected to be heading back to Fort Scott Community College for a second season. But then came a call from WVU’s newly hired coach Randy Mazey, who was putting together a 19-member recruiting class.
“I knew my junior college coach was going to be a little bummed, because it’s sort of unusual to leave after just one year, but it worked out for the best,” said Means, who was a 46th-round selection by the Braves out of high school.
“Coach Mazey was so serious about everything he did and so excited about the program. I’m glad I came here. I was going to have to move out of the house sometime.”
Mazey’s intensity has only heightened during the regular season as WVU aims to qualify for the Big 12 tournament. Known to sing “Country Roads” after every win, Mazey has been crooning frequently the past two weeks.
“He thinks we’re the real deal,” Means said. “Our goal is the College World Series, like every over team, but Coach thinks we can get there and we believe him.”