MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Hoping to receive an NCAA regional bid, West Virginia’s baseball team was left instead with an unsatisfying parting gift.
The selection committee revealed the Mountaineers (28-26) were among the first four teams left out of the tournament, emphasizing the razor-thin margin by which the season ended. A gap so narrow that perhaps one more win somewhere along the line could have made the difference.
While a 1-9 closing stretch certainly doomed West Virginia, there were numerous near-misses throuhout an up-and-down season. Trace back to the season opener in Charleston, S.C., where WVU led Louisville by two runs in the eighth inning only to fall 7-6 on a walkoff in the 10th. That same Louisville club will be hosting one of 16 NCAA regionals this week.
Even more painful was a Friday night game at TCU on April 4, in which the Mountaineers carried a 3-1 lead to the bottom of the ninth. The Frogs mounted a three-run rally on just two hits to win that one, sparking a sweep.
In total, West Virginia lost seven one-run games to NCAA tournament teams:
||L, 7-6 (10)
||at San Diego State||L, 2-1 (10)
||at UNLV||L, 4-3
||at TCU||L, 4-3
||at Kansas||L, 9-8|
||at Texas Tech||L, 4-3 (10)
||at Texas Tech||L, 3-2|
Had even one of those losses turned out differently, it might have been enough to boost West Virginia into the field of 64.
The Mountaineers finished with an RPI of 38, higher than seven teams that received at-large bids: Arizona State (40), North Carolina (41), Texas A&M, (42) UC Irvine (43), Stanford (44), Kansas (47) and Clemson (49). And remember, West Virginia beat the Tar Heels 5-1 in Chapel Hill on March 19.
As for bad losses, there was the 8-4 setback at Penn State on April 8: The Nittany Lions (18-32) finished at the bottom of the Big Ten and No. 232 i the RPI.
So that’s 18 years and counting since West Virginia last reached an NCAA regional, with the most recent disappointment heightened by the fact WVU owned a 27-17 on May 6 and seemed to be in prime position to end the drought.
Yet despite failing to reach the NCAA tournament, coach Randy Mazey’s first two seasons in Morgantown are enveloped with an air of over-achievement. Last year’s team was picked ninth in the Big 12 and finished third. This season’s squad was picked seventh and finished sixth.
Next season the program christens a new 2,500-seat stadium in Westover, a $21 million project that will be among the Big 12′s ballparks.
“West Virginia baseball is on the rise,” said senior first baseman Ryan McBroom. “The recruiting is going to be pretty ridiculous with the new stadium.”
But with the departure of players such as McBroom—who topped the team in homers and RBIs—the roster could require heavy retooling. Ace left-hander Harrison Musgrave turned down a 33rd-round offer from the Phillies last summer but might go higher this time. Right-hander Sean Carley, a 34th-round pick of the Padres despite sitting out the 2013 season as a transfer, also should see his stock rise.
Junior left-hander John Means, who essentially became the team’s No. 2 starter when Carley shifted to the bullpen, also figures to be drafted. That means Mazey may need to replace all three of the pitchers from this season’s Big 12 opening-weekend rotation.
Center fielder Bobby Boyd and second baseman Billy Fleming—two juniors who, along with McBroom, combined to finish 1-2-3 in Big 12 hitting—should also attract draft attention.