WVU BASEBALL: Mountaineers’ have slim NCAA hopes as Big 12 tourney opens

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. ­— Truth be told, not a lot has gone West Virginia’s way at the end of this college baseball season. The Mountaineers played their final seven games on the schedule on the road and lost each one.

They’ve gotten good pitching, but not much offense. They’ve put a lot of players on base, but haven’t pushed them across home plate. They got out of a bases-loaded jam with a triple play and had a player bat for the cycle for only the second time in school history, but also had two walk-off losses in the weekend series at Texas Tech.

“We feel like we have a really good team, but this is what the Big 12 is,” WVU coach Randy Mazey said. “It’s a really good conference, and when you go on the road in the Big 12, you play against top 25 teams all the time. It’s hard to win like that, but I don’t think we’re playing badly by any stretch of the imagination, and our RPI reflects that we’re having a really good season.

“The league’s really good this year. It’s the second-ranked league in the country for a reason. All of the teams are good. When you’re playing against good teams, that’s what you get.”

WVU was a season-high 10 games above .500 after taking two out of three games from then-No. 11 Texas in the final series at Hawley Field. The Mountaineers are now 27-24 and the No. 6 seed in the Big 12 tournament with a 9-14 record.

WVU plays No. 3 seed Kansas (34-22, 15-9) at 10 a.m. Wednesday to open the tournament. The games are at Bricktown Ballpark in Oklahoma City.

West Virginia is also in the seemingly unlikely position of playing for a spot in the NCAA tournament, despite having the 123rd-highest winning percentage in the country. The Mountaineers were No. 28 in Sunday’s RPI and had played the nation’s 19th-most difficult schedule. Before losing all three games to Texas Tech last week, WVU was included in a projected NCAA tournament field with a slightly higher RPI and a slightly lower strength of schedule rating.

“You never know what you need to get in,” Mazey said. “It all depends what else happens around the country. But in boxing and MMA and anything like that, you always say you don’t want to leave it in the hands of the judges. You go for the knockout. Crazy things have happened in the past.”

Crazy things have happened to WVU this season, which is why players and coaches feel oddly composed despite the losing streak and why they’re sort of convinced this will turn soon.

The Mountaineers started 2-4 before winning six in a row and were 12-8 before they played a home game. They went 4-4 before winning four straight. They lost seven in a row before going 9-1 with seven straight wins at the end.

WVU has been outscored only 34-20 in this losing streak, that after outscoring teams 60-20 in a seven-game winning streak. The Red Raiders won in 11 innings Thursday and in their last at-bat a day later before winning 4-0 Saturday. WVU left the bases loaded twice in that game and left 33 runners on base and 20 in scoring position in the series.

“It looks to me,” Mazey said, “like it’s time to win a lot.”

If WVU and its pitching staff can survive the double-elimination tournament and win the title, it gets an automatic spot in the NCAA tournament. If that’s not the outcome, the Mountaineers would prefer to create some distance from the .500 mark to strengthen the case for an at-large bid.

As it stands, they have the fifth-best RPI in the Big 12, which is second to only the SEC in conference RPI and which saw Kansas State, last season’s regular season champion and the preseason favorite this season, finish in ninth place and miss the conference tournament. Only three ACC and three Pac-12 teams have a better RPI than WVU.

However WVU gets there, it would be the first NCAA appearance since 1996.

“We do feel pretty good about where we’re at right now,” Mazey said.

The Jayhawks were first to derail WVU late in the season, though, and have won nine straight Big 12 games. They swept WVU at home two weeks ago and won games 5-3, 5-2 and 9-8, that finale being a wild game in which the teams traded leads throughout. The two teams also met in the first game of last season’s conference championship and the Jayhawks won on their way to a spot in the final, which Oklahoma won.

“We are eerily similar to where Kansas was last year,” Mazey said. “We swept Kansas last year in Beckley. They beat us in the first round of the conference tournament. But they had lost six games in a row going into the conference tournament last year and they came out and beat us. I don’t think there’s any doubt in any player’s mind or any coach’s mind we’re going to win that first game this time.”

Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at mikec@dailymailwv.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.charlestondailymail.com/wvu. Follow him on Twitter at @mikecasazza.

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