By Mickey Furfari
For The Register-Herald
West Virginia hopes to follow the same script in the 2011 Big East Baseball Tournament as it did in winning the 1996 championship.
“We didn’t have any aspirations of winning that title in ’96,” Coach Greg Van Zant recalled before leaving with his squad for Clearwater, Fl. “All we were trying to do was go in and win the first game.
“And that’s what we’re going to do this week. Win the first game and go from there.”
The Mountaineers (28-25 overall) are fourth-seeded with their 14-13 Big East Record. They play fifth-seeded Seton Hall (29-23 and 14-13) in the first round at 5 pm. Wednesday.
West Virginia won two of three games against the Pirates in their regular-season series in Morgantown.
In Wednesday’s other games, third-seeded Pitt meets sixth-seeded Louisville at 10 am, second-seeded St. John’s plays seventh-seeded Cincinnati at 1 pm, and top-seeded Connecticut plays eighth-seeded Notre Dame at 8 p.m.
This is a double-elimination tourney which winds up on Sunday. Connecticut (39-15-1) is a heavy favorite to capture the title and earn a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
“The biggest deal in this tournament (of eight teams) is if you can win Game 1 and Game 2, you will be 2 and 0 and you get a day off,” said Van Zant, in his 17th season as head coach here.
“Then on that fourth day someone has to beat you twice. And if you split a double-header, then you just have one game against the other bracket winner (for the title NCAA bid).”
He has emphasized to his players that they must focus strictly on defeating Seton Hall. Then, if successful, they need to concentrate on winning the next game.
The Mountaineers felt good about their chances in the tournament after ending their six-game losing streak last Saturday against Rutgers. WVU bats blazed in a 14-5 victory at Hawley Field.
Shortstop Grant Buckner belted a grand slam homer and single for five RBIs. He finished with a conference-best .437 batting average for the 27 Big East games.
Dan DiBartolomeo, who hadn’t played much since April 21 because of a shoulder injury, returned to action. He batted 4-for-5 with a homerun and three RBIs.
“That win was as big as any we’ve had here,” Van Zant exclaimed. “That got us a winning season guaranteed and a winning record in the Big East, and the fourth-seed.”
WVU has suffered through several injuries, losing some starters for the year. But others have stepped up, including four freshman pitchers.
“Considering all of the injuries we’ve had, I’m extremely proud of these guys, to stick it out and gut it out and play hard all the way,” the veteran coach said.
“It was not a matter of not playing hard. It was just a matter of us not scoring enough runs (at times).
“But that was a huge, huge win for these guys and this program.”