CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The circumstances to precede West Virginia's first Big 12 baseball tournament seem to have come together to conspire against the Mountaineers.They had their longest losing streak - five games - near the end of the regular season. WVU went from first place on May 11 to a tie for third and the No. 3 seed in the league's eight-team, pool play event that begins with today.West Virginia opens with sixth-seeded Kansas at 5 p.m. (Root Sports).WVU has been in Oklahoma for nine days, just one more road trip in a season that's featured 20 total. This one is the most unique, though, and not simply because of the length.The Mountaineers stand to be fatigued, if not physically, then emotionally after taking an active role in helping victims recover after a tornado Monday that steamed through Moore, Okla., and swept four or five miles past where the team is staying in Oklahoma City.First-year WVU Coach Randy Mazey has challenged his team to make the best of the adverse situations encountered this season as the coach and he's seen the players respond. The Mountaineers went from last place in the preseason coaches' poll to making a run for the conference title, all while playing just eight games on campus and the conference home games in Charleston and Beckley."I can't say enough about how these guys have played all year, how they've acted all year academically and socially," Mazey said. "This is as close to a coach's dream team as you can get. They've just been so much fun to coach and they're all deserving of all the honors they've gotten.
"From our first team meeting we had and how coachable they were in fall practice to what we did (Monday) helping out the victims down here, it's been a dream season as far as coaching goes, regardless of how things turn out down here."What awaits the Mountaineers in what is now round robin play with two four-team pools is presented as merely their next challenge."I like our chances," Mazey sad. "Our guys are motivated and I think we're playing like we have nothing to lose. We're not playing for ourselves. We're playing for other people and when you have such a motivating factor, then who knows what you're capable of?"The Mountaineers (31-25, 13-11 Big 12) bought supplies and necessities for victims Monday night at a local Wal-Mart and delivered them to a group of relocated victims in Norman, Okla., Tuesday. Their focus shifted Wednesday with a practice to prepare for today's game against the Jayhawks (31-24, 12-12).
WVU also plays Friday against No. 7 seed TCU (28-26, 12-12) and Saturday against No. 2 seed Oklahoma State (39-14, 13-10).Each of the Mountaineers' games starts at 5 p.m.The pool winners advance to a championship game at 2 p.m. Sunday."We have time to do something special here and take care of the people and the families, but then we have to buckle down and get ready to play the Big 12 tournament," West Virginia right fielder Brady Wilson said. "That's why we came down here. We have something special we can do as a team, too."
WVU swept the Jayhawks in a three-game series last month. The Jayhawks have lost six in a row, the longest current winning or losing streak in the conference. Both TCU and Oklahoma State won the series with WVU 2-1. It was the final two series of the regular season for the Mountaineers."TCU started playing really well when they came to our place," Wilson said. "Their offense started to pick up and I think they have the best pitching staff in the conference. They're just a really good team. Oklahoma State, we played well against them, but we lost two out of three. I feel like to win that last game, it gives us a lot of confidence going into this."WVU rested Harrison Musgrave, the Big 12's Pitcher of the Year, in the series against Oklahoma State. He threw 143 pitches four days before the opener against the Cowboys and Mazey decided to sit Musgrave, who missed last season following Tommy John surgery, since WVU was only playing for seeding in the conference championship.Musgrave, 5-0 in Big 12 starts with three shutouts and 8-1 overall with a 2.14 ERA, will wait one more day and won't start against Kansas.Mazey considered his options for the format the Big 12 announced Tuesday, when the start of the tournament was pushed back one day, and said Wednesday that Dan Dierdorff (4-7, 5.27 ERA) will start against Kansas.Dierdorff threw a complete game in a 4-3 win against Kansas this season. He struck out six and walked one and had one stretch where he retired 13 straight. Conversely, Dierdorff, typically the team's No. 2 starter, was thumped by TCU. He lasted two-thirds of an inning and gave up six runs (four earned) in a 7-4 loss. Musgrave struck out 14 Horned Frogs in a 2-0 complete-game win May 11. Musgrave hasn't pitched since.
"We've been playing well all year long even with all the adversity we've gone through with the travel and everyone counting us out as thezunderdog," Wilson said. "We can still play like we don't have anything to lose. We'll go out and play loose. Harrison's pitching the first game and we've got a lot of other guys who can play. I really feel like if we keep doing what we've done all year, we'll be all right."Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at firstname.lastname@example.org
or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.