The West Virginia University baseball team this weekend will host NCAA tournament games for the first time since 1955. While it has been many years since the Mountaineers have been a host, this WVU team does feature some experience at this level.
The Mountaineers are the No. 15 overall seed in the tournament and host a four-team, double-elimination regional at Monongalia County Ballpark. This group of WVU upperclassmen experienced a regional trip two seasons ago, but this time they’ll get to do so from the comfort of their own dugout.
“It’s pretty cool,” senior right fielder Darius Hill said. “I mean, obviously, it’s historic that we’re having a regional in Morgantown and we’ll see three great teams come in here. We’re looking forward to the opportunity.”
Texas A&M and Duke open the Morgantown Regional at 4 p.m. Friday, with the host Mountaineers taking on Fordham at 8 p.m. The Mountaineers learned they would be regional hosts Sunday evening when their airplane home from the Big 12 tournament landed. Hill said it took some time for the accomplishment and reality — WVU hosting NCAA tournament games at Monongalia County Ballpark — to set in.
“Seeing it pop up on the TV made it real,” Hill said. “It’s so special that we get to play in front of our home fans. It’s such a great advantage playing here. Hopefully we just continue the wave we’ve had at home this year. We’ve just got to keep doing what we’ve been doing.”
Monongalia County Ballpark turned into one of the toughest places to play for opposing teams in the Big 12 this season with West Virginia winning all but one of its conference series in Morgantown.
The Mountaineers posted a 17-5 overall record at home in 2019 — the fewest home losses by any Big 12 team this season.
Two years ago, the Mountaineers hit the road to play regional games in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, at Wake Forest. This time around, Hill said, they are happy to have a home-field advantage.
“Being able to play at home is a huge advantage for us,” Hill said. “Two years ago we didn’t know what we were going into playing on the road. It’s just such a huge advantage to play in your own ballpark.
“It’s good to play in your own ballpark. You know the nooks and crannies, you know the how the wind typically is and the crowd is going to be rooting for you. So, there are just a lot of advantages that work our way.”
Texas A&M, the No. 2 seed in the Morgantown Regional, has been one of the top college baseball programs in the country this decade despite not winning a national championship.
The Aggies, of course, left the Big 12 before West Virginia joined. As members of the Southeastern Conference, TAMU has not crossed paths with the Mountaineers while becoming postseason regulars under 14th-year coach Rob Childress.
That, however, does not mean WVU players are not familiar with A&M. West Virginia has a few Texans on the team, and they grew up well aware of the college baseball powerhouse in College Station.
“I think I have like 40 friends that go to A&M from high school,” Hill, a Dallas native, said. “I’m well familiar with the school. I’ve watched some of their games on TV. It’s going to be pretty cool. I know they’re a great program and a great team, so we’re going to have to bring it if we play against them.”
Senior catcher Ivan Gonzalez, a Round Rock, Texas native, said he is happy for the chance to possibly play against people he has not faced in several years.
“Being a Texas native, I have a lot of buddies there,” Gonzalez said. “I can see them and I haven’t played against them since high school. It’s awesome.”
WVU announced Tuesday that due to the high volume of priority ticket requests for the Morgantown Regional, sales of all-session passes to the general public have been pushed back until 9 a.m. Wednesday.