OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. — Morning rush hour will be in full gridlock, and the bleachers figure to be anything but full, when West Virginia kicks off the Big 12 baseball tournament Wednesday.
WVU faces Kansas in a 9 a.m. rise-and-shine start time, the product of the Big 12 needing to squeeze in four opening-day games at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark.
“Anything before 9:30, I’m usually a zombie,” joked Mountaineers starting pitcher Harrison Musgrave. The left-hander said he typically avoids scheduling classes that early, much less taking the mound for a game that wields massive importance to West Virginia’s NCAA hopes.
“I can’t imagine the last time I threw at 9 o’clock in the morning,” said Musgrave, who was 5-3 with a 2.32 ERA this season.
Cleanup-hitting first baseman Ryan McBroom, searching his memory for early start, said “I haven’t done that since my younger days in AAU.”
After closing the regular season with seven straight losses, West Virginia (27-24, 9-14) needs a productive showing in Oklahoma City to impress the NCAA selection committee. The Big 12′s top five teams are generally considered locks for the field of 64, while sixth-place finisher WVU sits on the bubble.
During Tuesday’s luncheon at Mickey Mantle’s Steakhouse, which sits across the street from the ballpark, league coaches took turns lobbying for WVU’s postseason perks.
“It would be a travesty if this league didn’t put six teams in the NCAA,” said Texas Tech coach Tim Tadlock.
“The Big 12 certainly deserves to have six teams in the NCAA and three or four hosting regionals next week,” said TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle.
West Virginia coach Randy Mazey—who spent six seasons as Schlossnagle’s top assistant—welcomed the encouragement, but he knows the Mountaineers likely need at least two wins to bolster their win-loss record and keep their 31st-ranked RPI in good standing.
“We’re still fighting to get in the tournament,” Mazey said. “We’re going to have to do what we have to do to win a couple games down there. We’re going to have to have all hands on deck.”
In preparation for Wednesday morning’s matchup, WVU worked out early Monday and was the first Big 12 team to practice at the ballpark Tuesday at 8 a.m. Now Mazey hopes his guys arrive energized on gameday for what McBroom called “pretty much do-or-die for us.”
“The team who is most comfortable in an uncomfortable situation is going to win this game, and the Mountaineers are used to being in uncomfortable situations—that’s how we roll,” Mazey said. “We’re very confident coming in.”
POSTSEASON ON HOLD
There was no missing the shreds of disappointment in Musgrave’s voice Tuesday afternoon: Given where his team stood after beating Virginia Tech on May 6, he had hoped the Mountaineers would have secured their NCAA bid by now.
Instead, WVU suffered a crushing string of defeats—series sweeps at Kansas and Texas Tech sandwiched around a loss at Maryland.
“I think we kind of shot ourselves in the foot a lot the past couple weeks,” he said. “We really just needed to win a couple games out of the last seven, and we couldn’t do it.”
It was a sentiment echoed by second baseman Billy Fleming: “Dropping as many games in a row as we have, we have a lot of work to do.”
Winning the tournament outright would bring an automatic NCAA bid, but speedy center fielder Bobby Boyd agreed that “even two or three wins would be huge for us.” And like a lot of his teammates, he senses the streaky Mountaineers could inflict postseason damage if given the chance.
“We’re dangerous,” Boyd said. “We could go to Omaha if we got in the field of 64.”
ALL-BIG 12 HONORS
Fleming and Boyd were first-team All-Big 12 selections, while McBroom and Musgrave settled for being second-team picks.
Musgrave couldn’t repeat as pitcher of the year largely because WVU’s bullpen squandered four leads.
“As a pitcher you can only control what you can control,” Mazey said. “You can’t control how many runs they score on offense or who makes plays behind you. He’s done that. He’s pitched just as well as he did last year.”