by Jim Buzzerd
Not ready for prime time
The table was set for the West Virginia University Baseball Team in Morgantown last weekend. The Mountaineers were hosting a NCAA regional for the first time in 64 years and fans responded by selling out the event in 15 minutes according to reports. Coach Randy Mazey elected to hold his ace pitcher Alek Manoah for the second game and throw Nick Snyder in the first round game against Fordham. That strategy worked and WVU looked to be in great shape heading into Saturday’s winner’s bracket game against Duke who beat Texas A&M in Friday’s opener.
Things went south early for the Mountaineers Saturday night in a 4-0 loss. Manoah, who would become the 11th pick in the Major League Baseball draft two nights later, struggled on the mound. He gave up two runs in the first as Duke came up with a two out double and triple and then Manoah threw a wild pitch. Duke added its final two runs in the third with the help of three Manoah walks. Manoah will head off to the Toronto Blue Jays now, but his final game as a Mountaineer was one of control issues. He issued four walks, threw two wild pitches and hit a batter. Some will tell you the home plate umpire had a bad game too.
Anyway, the loss put WVU into a loser’s bracket game where they would need to beat the Aggies on Sunday then take two in a row from Duke. What happened in Sunday’s elimination game against Texas A&M has me at a loss for words. The game began at noon and televised nationally on ESPN2. Lightning in the area caused a weather delay in the fourth inning with WVU leading 4-0. Play resumed nearly two hours later and after the top of the seventh West Virginia had extended the lead to 9-1.
An aside here, despite being the top seed WVU was designated as the visiting team in games two and three of the weekend. I don’t understand the NCAA’s rationale for this.
A laboring Zach Ottinger had trouble getting outs in the seventh and ended up allowing six runs in the inning, including a grand slam, before Mazey brought in his best closer Sam Kessler with still only one out. Kessler put out the fire and WVU added a run in the eighth to lead 10-7.
Skip to the bottom of the ninth and A&M leads off with a double. Then there is a fly out, a walk; a strike out then another walk and the bases are loaded. Bryce Blaum and Kessler battle to a full count and Kessler serves up a two out gopher ball that Blaum launched well over the left field fence. The walk off grand slam sent the Aggies to the winner’s circle with an improbable 11-10 win over the Mountaineers.
I heard one comment, “That was so West Virginia of us.” A comment I assume draws upon experiences like losing to Pitt 36-35 after leading 35-6 at halftime. Losing to Pitt 13-9 as a 28-point favorite with a trip to the national championship on the line. Then there was the time WVU led Louisville by over 20 points with a trip to the Final Four on the line and lost. The list is pretty long, the most recent is last fall when WVU led Oklahoma State 31-14 at halftime with a Big 12 Football Championship on the line and lost 45-41.
WVU baseball has made huge strides as evidenced by fans comparing a baseball loss to some epic meltdowns by the football and basketball teams. Personally, I’m still a fair-weather baseball fan, Mountaineers, or otherwise. I’ll actually plan my schedule around West Virginia football and basketball schedules, but not baseball in the foreseeable future. Sunday’s baseball game was over four hours long and that doesn’t include the two-hour weather delay. I care about the baseball program, but probably not enough to watch much of it until the team gets to the conference playoffs.