By Cam Huffman
One of the country’s best baseball conferences will put two of its teams on display in Beckley today as Big 12 members Kansas and West Virginia will play a critical conference series at Linda K. Epling Stadium.
Winners of 15 of their last 20 games, the Mountaineers are making some noise in their new league, and first-year head coach Randy Mazey is excited about the results.
“We really didn’t know what to expect going into it, because all we knew about our players was from the stat sheets from the year before,” said Mazey, a former TCU assistant. “But the one thing we did know was that the kids were going to compete and play hard. We’re starting to see some results from that.”
The three-game set begins today with a 6:30 p.m. matchup. Saturday’s second game is scheduled for a 4 p.m. start, and the series will conclude Sunday with a 1 p.m. first pitch.
WHAT THIS MEANS
Every game is critical in a tightly-contested Big 12 race.
Kansas (25-15, 9-6) is currently in second place in the nine-team league, just behind Oklahoma, which leads the league at 8-4.
WVU (24-18, 6-6), picked to finish in the conference’s basement, has done much better than that so far. At .500 in league play, the Mountaineers are in sixth place, in a virtual tie with Oklahoma, which is 7-7 in league play, and ahead of Texas powers TCU (7-8), Texas (5-10) and Texas Tech (5-10).
Both the Mountaineers and Jayhawks are within striking distance o the top spot, but the battle isn’t just for No. 1. It’s also extremely important to avoid the basement, as the last-place team will not be included in the Big 12 tournament.
“Our goal is to make the Big 12 tournament,” said WVU ace Harrison Musgrave. “Halfway through the season, it’s more realistic. We’re in the middle of the pack. It’s going to be a grind the last four weeks, but our goal’s still to make the tournament.”
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Michael Suiter, OF. The sophomore is batting .354 with seven doubles and 20 RBIs. He’s also stolen 14 bases.
Alex DeLeon, IF. The senior is hitting .326 with 12 doubles, five home runs and 33 RBIs.
Ryan Tuntland, 3B. The junior leads the team with a .370 battling average. He’s hit a pair of homers and driven in 24 runs.
Ryan McBroom, 1B. The junior leads the team with eight home runs and 31 RBIs.
ON THE HILL
WVU will send Musgrave, the NCBWA National Pitcher of the Week, to the mound for today’s first game. The sophomore lefty is 6-1 with a 2.70 ERA and is coming off a complete game shutout of Texas last Friday.
Senior right-hander Dan Dierdorff (2-5, 4.78 ERA) will start Saturday’s game, with sophomore lefty John Means (3-2, 3.05 ERA) getting the call on Sunday.
Kansas will counter with its ace tonight as senior right-hander Thomas Taylor (4-0, 2.47 ERA) will start. Sophomore lefty Wes Benjamin (4-4, 4.50 ERA) will start Saturday, while Sunday’s starter is undecided.
WANT TO GO?
Tickets will be available at the gate for $9. Groups of 10 or more will be charged $5 per ticket.
CAN’T BE THERE?
If a trip to Linda K. Epling Stadium isn’t possible, the audio of the game will be available online at WVUsports.com or on the radio locally on 102.7 The Ticket.
— E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org and follow on Twitter @CamHuffmanRH.