MORGANTOWN — If nothing else, West Virginia’s baseball team managed to show just how many different ways it could win games over the weekend.
There was, of course, more than that. The bottom line is that the Mountaineers accomplished something far more concrete, namely a three-game sweep of defending Big 12 regular-season champion Kansas State and extending its winning streak to six in a row and eight of the last nine.
But perhaps just as significantly, West Virginia swept the series in a variety of different ways. There was Harrison Musgrave’s dominant pitching performance in a 10-1 win Friday night. On Saturday afternoon, WVU overcame a rocky start and a 5-3 deficit with clutch hitting and base running in the bottom of the ninth inning for a 6-5 win.
Then on Sunday, Ross Vance came up with his third straight clutch pitching performance, extra-base hits led to a four-run explosion in the sixth, and Sean Carley made a near-perfect debut as the team’s closer in a 6-1 victory to close out the next-to-last series ever at Hawley Field.
Those were types of things the Mountaineers have always been able to do, but at least for a while were simply not doing. That resulted in a seven-game losing streak that preceded the current 8-1 stretch, but coach Randy Mazey said he never really doubted his team. And the Mountaineers didn’t doubt themselves.
“I don’t think we played bad during that stretch. We just ran into two really hot teams,’’ Mazey said of being swept by both TCU and Oklahoma during that seven-game slide. “We never got down on anybody and stayed positive and we knew it was going to turn on us.
“Right now we’re feeling pretty confident — at the plate, on the mound, on defense. The character of this team is starting to show up.’’
On Sunday, West Virginia seemed to really put some pieces together. In some ways, it was a day to see if the pitching changes Mazey has made over the last few weeks would really work out.
Vance, who had pitched just six innings in 10 appearances through April 13, made his third straight start, but his first in a Big 12 game. Mazey tried him as a starter in mid-week games the last two weeks with amazing success, watching him go 2-0 with 20 strikeouts and three walks in wins over Ohio State and Maryland. On Sunday, he went seven innings, struck out seven, walked no one and gave up just five hits.
Vance gave up a leadoff home run to Kansas State cleanup hitter Tanner DeVinny to start the seventh before retiring the side, then he retired for the day leading 5-1.
Not bad for a 5-foot-11, 180-pounder junior college transfer who looks like he might have just walked in off the street.
“I love it when they look out there and say, ‘Oh, a little guy coming to the mound,’ ” Vance said. “They get frustrated getting out by someone who doesn’t throw very hard and doesn’t seem like he really has a whole lot.’’
That’s certainly not the case with Carley. A 6-4, 250-pound junior who started out at the Air Force Academy, Carley throws as hard as anyone. And so when WVU’s bullpen had issues during that losing streak and Vance showed that he might be able to fill one of the weekend starter roles, Carley was moved to the pen despite a 5-1 record and 2.73 earned run average as that third Big 12 starter.
Since making the switch, though, West Virginia hadn’t had the need for a closer, having either held big leads or needing a late-inning comeback. When Vance left after throwing 90 pitches on four days rest Sunday, Carley came on to pitch the final two innings. All he did was face seven batters, strike out four, walk one and not give up a hit. He didn’t get a save because he inherited a five-run lead, but he got the work and left little doubt he is a good fit for the role.
Meanwhile, West Virginia’s offense and defense continued to hum along. For the fifth time in six games, the Mountaineers reached double figures in hits with 12, including a two-run triple by right fielder Brad Johnson and an RBI double by catcher Cam O’Brien in that four-run sixth. And for the seventh time in the last nine games, the Mountaineers didn’t commit an error.
It all added up to the sweep, which leaves the Mountaineers at 24-16 overall and 7-7 in the Big 12 heading into a Wednesday makeup game against Marshall in Charleston and then next weekend’s final home series against Texas.
“I told them before the game that opportunities come by in life not all that often, as they do in college baseball,’’ Mazey said. “This was a huge game just to prove to us that when we’re in this situation again, we’re starting to get confidence in the third game of a series. When you get into postseason tournaments and you have to play a lot of games in a short period of time, it’s good to know you can come out and grind one out in game three.’’
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/dphickman1