OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. — West Virginia’s better-than-expected baseball season is now on life support.
Beaten by Kansas 7-2 on opening day at the Big 12 tournament, the third-seeded Mountaineers must win their remaining two pool-play games to have a chance of reaching Sunday’s championship game.
WVU (31-26) is slated to face TCU today — with ace Harrison Musgrave well-rested — and Oklahoma State on Saturday at the Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark.
The Mountaineers, spending their eighth day in Oklahoma, had received national notoriety for distributing supplies after a killer tornado struck the nearby suburb of Moore. Though the preceding 72 hours were emotional for his team, Coach Randy Mazey downplayed the impact as the Mountaineers returned their focused baseball.
“We teach our guys all the time to avoid distractions, and we have been here a long time,” Mazey said. “The community service work had no part in what happened today on the field.”
West Virginia swept three one-run games from Kansas during the regular-season series in Beckley, but the Jayhawks (32-24) jumped ahead early in Thursday’s rematch. In snapping a six-game losing streak that dated back to May 10, Kansas outhit WVU 12-7 and removed all drama with five runs in its final three at-bats.
Already up 2-1 in the seventh, Kansas cushioned its lead when Kevin Kuntz pushed a suicide-squeeze bunt down the first-base line. Michael Suiter followed with a two-out, ground-ball single through the left side to make it 4-1 against WVU’s Dan Dierdorff (4-8), who allowed nine hits in seven innings and lost his third straight start.
Despite the outcome, Mazey said he thought Dierdorff “was as good as he has been all season,” with the senior throwing 62 of his 84 pitches for strikes.
In the eighth, Kansas tacked on two more runs against reliever Josh Harlow, when Tucker Tharp’s two-out double carried to the base of the wall in right field.
Kansas starter Thomas Taylor (6-2) retired 18 straight WVU batters until hitting Bobby Boyd on a 1-2 pitch with one out in the bottom of the eighth. Taylor then walked Brady Wilson and gave way to reliever Jordan Piche’, who surrendered an Jacob Rice’s RBI single that narrowed the gap to 6-2.
Ryan Tuntland’s subsequent single loaded the bases and bolstered West Virginia’s comeback hopes. But Ryan McBroom’s liner up the middle was snagged inches off the ground by KU second baseman Justin Protacio, who doubled off Rice at second.
“Obviously, anytime you’re on a losing streak, in order to get things turned around, it starts with your starting pitcher,” said Kansas coach Ritch Price. “Thomas Taylor gave us the starting effort we needed. He managed to hold (WVU) off and keep them at bay until we could keep at them offensively.”
Kansas scored its final run on Cory Holmes’ ninth-inning wild pitch.
Using its small-ball attack effectively, KU scored twice in the top of the first. Protacio ripped a leadoff double, beat the throw to third on Kuntz’s sac bunt and scored when Suiter’s sacrifice squeeze was mishandled by Dierdorff. Dakota Smith bounced a two-out single to left to score Kuntz.
WVU squandered early chances to get to Taylor, stranding two runners in the bottom of the first when the KU right-hander struck out Tuntland and McBroom.
The Mountaineers pulled within 2-1 in the second inning as Billy Fleming coaxed a leadoff walk, took second on Alan Filauro’s single and scored on Michael Constantini’s two-out double. But again Taylor stranded two runners when he Boyd popped up and Wilson struck out.
“I struggled with my command the first couple innings, pretty much trying to throw too hard,” Taylor said. “But after that I settled down and just tried to pitch to contact.”
Taylor struck out only four in his 96-pitch outing, yet kept the Mountaineers in check.
“We have seen him before and we knew he would attack the outside corner,” said WVU’s Wilson. “He did a good job starting hitters with some off-speed pitches. He really didn’t overpower you. He just threw all three of his pitches for strikes.”
Mazey’s philosophy in saving Musgrave for the TCU matchup was that WVU could possibly survive a loss in its tournament opener. That theory, and West Virginia’s resolve, gets tested today.
Big 12 tournament standings
No. 6 Kansas 1-0
No. 7 TCU 1-0
No. 2 Oklahoma State 0-1
No. 3 West Virginia 0-1
No. 1 Kansas State 1-0
No. 4 Oklahoma 1-0
No. 5 Baylor 0-1
No. 8 Texas Tech 0-1
TCU 8, Oklahoma State 4
Kansas State Texas Tech
Oklahoma 2, Baylor 0
Kansas 7, West Virginia 2
Oklahoma vs. Texas Tech, 10 a.m. Eastern
Kansas State vs. Baylor, 1:30 p.m.
West Virginia vs. TCU, 5 p.m.
Oklahoma State vs. Kansas, 8:30 p.m.