CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The Mother’s Day massacre TCU inflicted upon West Virginia was mere minutes old when Randy Mazey began applying spin control to the 16-6 loss.
“Who would’ve ever thought that with one weekend left in the season that we’d still have an opportunity to win the Big 12?” said WVU’s baseball coach.
Not since BP dramatized pristine beaches after the Gulf oil spill had someone pinned such a merry message to a ruinous event. Yet Mazey’s rosy outlook couldn’t be dampened by a one-day disaster — not even one that involved the Big 12′s worst-hitting team treating WVU’s pitchers like another form of BP (batting practice).
TCU, which had not scored more than eight runs in a conference game, doubled that output Sunday. The 16 runs were more than TCU had scored in eight series this season. And after homering precisely once during their first 20 league games, the Horned Frogs bashed two out of Appalachian Power Park within a matter of 58 minutes.
“They were stroking,” said West Virginia starter John Means (4-3), who was handed a three-run lead in the first inning only to hand it back by the third.
“They were even hitting balls out of the zone,” said Means, who left in the fifth trailing 6-4. “I mean, I was leaving some balls up, but there was definitely some good hitting too.”
Much better hitting than TCU’s .246 team batting average suggested coming in. The purple pounders went 18-of-43 (.418) on getaway day in Charleston. Heck, TCU’s No. 9 hitter Kyle Bacak batted 4-for-6, shell-shocking a crowd of 1,820 fans who hoped WVU would win its fourth consecutive Big 12 series.
Instead, West Virginia fell two games behind Big 12 frontrunner Kansas State and leaked some of the momentum that brought it to the postseason bubble. After beginning the weekend with a 2-0 victory, the Mountaineers wound up dropping two of the three to a TCU squad that stood 107th in the RPI.
WVU’s path to an NCAA at-large bid is now harder to see than the numbers on those camouflage jerseys. But here’s an estimate of what is needed: Take two out of three next week at Oklahoma State and win at least three games at the Big 12 tournament.
As a precursor to those tall tasks, WVU must visit Beckley on Tuesday night in order to meet Marshall, a rivalry game that looms as more obstacle than opportunity. (The Herd sits No. 222 in the RPI, offering no boost in schedule strength and creating a logistical pain with WVU slated to board a Pittsburgh flight bound for Stillwater the next morning at 7 a.m.)
“Our travel schedule over the next three days is going to be as bad as it’s been the entire season,” Mazey said, “but we’re going to flip that into a positive.”
There’s the spin doctor again, distilling each piece of adversity into a blessing. Picked for the bottom of the Big 12? (Much obliged!) Positioned as the northern-most school in a southern league? (Spectacular!) Forced to play your home games two hours from campus at a park where the PA guy mispronounces Mazey as “MY-zee”? (Tip of the cap!)
Regardless how you say his last name, just know you’ll soon be seeing it attached to the Big 12 Coach of the Year award. That’s a tribute to drastic overachievement, whereby Mazey has taken the least talented roster in the conference and convinced it to put emphatic cleat marks through preseason projections.
He emphasized this back in January, taking the team on an unannounced 12-mile hike along the rail trail that resulted in sore calves, blisters and proof that the key to finishing is focusing. Now there’s one more mile to travel in the regular season, one more game against a rival eager to play spoiler, one more crucial road series against another Big 12 team on the NCAA bubble.
Said WVU’s head coach and hiking guide: “These next 10 days for Mountaineer baseball are going to be pretty important.”
And that’s the recipe for forgetting a truly rotten Sunday.