By Cam Huffman
West Virginia and Marshall are going to continue to meet on the baseball diamond. After a nearly 15-year break in the series, all involved agreed that rekindling the rivalry between the state’s two biggest schools — a series that culminated with a 6-5 Marshall victory Tuesday at Linda K. Epling Stadium — was a solid idea.
“It’s been great for the state and great for both programs,” said Marshall associate athletic director Jeff O’Malley. “I think it’s something we want to continue.”
“It’s something that (WVU first-year head coach Randy) Mazey really wanted to kind of rekindle a little bit,” agreed WVU deputy director of athletics Mike Parsons. “It’s certainly a good series to keep, and I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t continue.”
The coaches? They’re on board, as well.
“It was fun for the fans and the players, and that’s what it’s about,” said Marshall head coach Jeff Waggoner. “I’m glad they were able to work this out and get these games played.”
Mazey also gave a thumbs up to the series, saying he’d “like to continue to play Marshall.”
But what will the series look like in the future?
Is this year’s plan of a game in Morgantown, a game in Charleston and a game in Beckley a long-term solution, or will the series look different in future seasons?
That question is a little more difficult to answer.
“It kind of came together last minute this year, so it made sense to play the three games at three different locations,” said O’Malley.
But that doesn’t mean it’s the best option in the future.
“We’re going to go back and evaluate all the travel we’ve done and all the teams we’re playing,” said Mazey. “We’ll make some decisions after the season’s over about what we’re going to continue to do and who we’re going to continue to play. We just want to be fair to our kids and our team.
“We definitely want to play (Marshall) in Morgantown and somewhere else. We just don’t know where. (Beckley) is a three-and-a-half hour drive from Morgantown for us.”
But there are positives to that travel, as well.
“One of the things we tried to do this year with our baseball program was create a buzz, and I think we accomplished that in a lot of different ways,” said Parsons. “We were able to expose ourselves to different fan bases.”
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The location of any future series isn’t the only question still to be answered. There could also be some changes to the dates.
“It may look a little different because of where it comes in the season,” said Parsons. “The biggest thing is finding some more realistic dates next year.”
Parsons explained that WVU got caught in a jam when the Big 12 gave its teams the option of beginning their final weekend series on Thursday instead of Friday. Oklahoma State, which hosts WVU this weekend, decided to follow that plan, meaning the Mountaineers had to play a night game in Beckley Tuesday, travel to Morgantown after the game and be in Pittsburgh in time for a 7 a.m. flight Wednesday morning.
“Ideally, (Tuesday’s) game would have been played on (Monday),” said Parsons.
Weather could also be an issue in future schedules..
“We have to see about keeping them in April and May when the weather’s a little better and it’s going to draw a little better,” said Waggoner. The first game in Charleston, an 8-0 Marshall victory in frigid temperatures, drew a sparse crowd and the second game in Morgantown, a 10-2 WVU win, brought in an announced attendance of only 544 fans.
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One thing that does appear to be out of the question is a weekend series. As intriguing as three days of Marshall’s best against WVU’s best would be, working out such a series would not be easy.
“I think that just depends on future schedules,” said O’Malley. “If we both have an open weekend, it may be something we’ll consider.”
The chances of that, though, seem slim.
“Certainly, it’s not out of the question, but everything would have to align perfectly,” said Parsons. “I’m not sure we want to do a weekend series in March. I don’t think people are thinking baseball yet, and I don’t think it would do the series justice. So after that point, our open weekend has to match the Conference USA open weekend, and the chances of that happening are probably pretty slim.”
The coaches were even less optimistic.
“With our conference alignment and the new conference schedule, we only have three early games, and you’re going to plan southern trips,” said Waggoner. “There is a bye weekend for both teams, but it’s hard to match up bye weekends. It will be hard to play a weekend series. We play conference in March, and you’re not going to play a three-game set against these guys in February.”
“I don’t know if we’re capable of doing that with our weather situation,” Mazey agreed. “We could schedule a three-game series in late February or early March, but what are the chances we’ll get to play it?”
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Whatever decision is made about the future for the Herd and the Mountaineers, Linda K. Epling Stadium owner Doug Epling is hopeful Beckley can be part of the equation.
“We want to continue to see at least a game here,” said Epling, smiling from ear to ear after a perfect evening of baseball Tuesday that included 2,103 fans decked in gold, blue and green. “We’d take all of them if we could get them. I think this proves what people want. This has been a great series.”
— E-mail: chuffman
@register-herald.com and follow on Twitter @CamHuffmanRH