Less than a week ago, West Virginia was in position to finish outright regular season Big 12 champion, which would have given the Mountaineers the No. 1 seed in this week’s Phillips 66 Big 12 Baseball Championship at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas.
Instead, after being outscored by 20 runs and swept for the first time this season in a three-game set at Texas, West Virginia’s extended stay in the Lone Star State is as a No. 3 seed off three straight losses for the first time this season.
The Mountaineers face No. 6 Texas Tech at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday in the last of four Big 12 battles on the opening day of the league tournament. The matchup will be shown on Big 12 Now on ESPN+ and presents an opportunity for West Virginia to bounce back as it still has hope of hosting a NCAA Regional next weekend.
“You play a long season and you can’t get too excited about when you win or too disappointed when you lose,” WVU manager Randy Mazey said. “This isn’t like football where you have to sleep on it for six nights until you get to play again. In our sport, you have to learn to rebound pretty quickly from the good days and bad days. We had a great practice yesterday and had a lot of fun. Guys were hooting and hollering. Our mentality right now is pretty good.”
Still, with four full days between the last of its three losses to No. 1 seed Texas and the matchup with the Red Raiders, there’s been plenty of time for West Virginia (39-16, 15-9) to ponder what went wrong.
WVU trailed after every inning of the series and got little production in the way of its starting pitching.
Ben Hampton, a veteran left-handed starting pitcher normally utilized on Fridays to open Big 12 series, was instead used in Saturday’s series finale and failed to make it out of the first inning.
That came after Texas victories in which the Longhorns had little difficulty mustering offensive production at the rate they desired against freshman Carson Estridge in the series opener and Blaine Traxel in Game 2.
WVU will try a new starting pitcher Wednesday against the Red Raiders (37-19, 12-12) when redshirt freshman David Hagaman makes his first career start.
The right-handed Hagaman has enjoyed a strong season out of the bullpen with a 1-1 record and a 2.30 ERA over 31 1/3 innings. Hagaman has struck out 31, issued 13 walks and allowed 16 hits.
Hagaman has prevented the opposition from scoring in 16 of his 20 appearances, including six straight. He has not pitched more than 3 2/3 innings in any outing, though Hagaman logged three-plus innings in his two most recent appearances for his longest outings this season.
“I have all the faith in the world in our guys, but there’s a lot that goes into it with matchups, you plan on being here for four or five days and what you have to try to do to try to get a host spot,” Mazey said. “There’s a ton of different variables. We met as a coaching staff yesterday and figured this was our best chance to win the first game.”
A well-rested bullpen should be in play for both teams, but could be particularly beneficial to the Mountaineers.
While the Red Raiders lost the last two of a three-game series in Morgantown less than two weeks ago when their offense was held in check with 10 runs over the three matchups, it was somewhat of an anomaly for Texas Tech. The Red Raiders lead the league and ranks No. 8 nationally with 488 runs.
“We pitched really well against a dangerous team,” Mazey said. “They’ve seen all of our guys now so they have a little bit of an advantage as far as knowing what our pitchers like and the shape of their pitches. We have to try and do the same thing to limit their offense as much as we can.”
For West Virginia, which fell from No. 6 to 21 in D1Baseball’s Top 25, a team considered relatively safe to host a NCAA Regional this time last week no longer is.
Instead, the Mountaineers undoubtedly have work to do as they try to stack multiple victories and put themselves back in a spot where hosting becomes more of a likelihood than possibility.
“I’m not in that room with those committee members to know what they talk about,” Mazey said. “All we can do is try and win each game that we play and if we do well enough and somebody feels we’re worthy of playing in Morgantown, then we’ll play in Morgantown. We want to win one game at a time and let other people make those decisions.”