By Cam Huffman
Most of the fans in the seats at Linda K. Epling Stadium this weekend are sure to be wearing gold and screaming “Let’s Go Mountaineers.”
Unless there’s a die-hard Jayhawks fan living somewhere in Raleigh County, counting down the days until Friday’s 6:30 p.m. start, or a player’s mom that somehow works her way onto the team flight, there might not be a single Kansas fan inside the gates when the Jayhawks come to Beckley for a three-game Big 12 series with West Virginia University.
But based on the season to this point, baseball purists are sure to appreciate what they see from the team in the visitors’ dugout.
Picked to finish ahead of only one team — the Mountaineers — in the conference’s preseason poll, the Jayhawks have reversed their fortunes and are now behind only one team on the other end of the spectrum. KU (24-15, 9-6 Big 12) trails only preseason favorite Oklahoma (31-10, 8-4) for first place in one of college baseball’s best conferences.
“They’re really good,” said WVU first-year head coach Randy Mazey, who has his team, picked to finish dead last in the Big 12, performing well above expectations, as well, at 24-18 overall and 6-6 in league play. “I think they’re in second place in the league right now, and they’re fighting for a championship.“It’s going to be a tough series. They can really pitch and really hit. They’ve got a lot to play for. If they have a good weekend, they could jump into first place. So it’s going to be a really good test for us.”
Perhaps the most exciting player to watch for KU is sophomore outfielder Michael Suiter, who is tied for fifth in the Big 12 with a .364 batting average. The Kailua, Hawaii, native has scored 26 runs and driven home 20 more, and he’s a threat on the bags with 14 stolen bases. Alex DeLeon, a senior infielder, is fourth in the conference with 12 doubles and seventh with 30 RBIs.
Senior right-hander Thomas Taylor is the ace of the pitching staff. He holds a 4-0 record with a 2.47 ERA.
If KU takes a lead into the late innings, it’s hard to beat. Jayhawks closer Jordan Piche, a junior right-hander, leads the Big 12 with eight saves.
The one big question mark for Kansas is its play on the road. While the Jayhawks are 11-3 at home, they’re just 7-8 away from Hoglund Ballpark.
That’s a statistic that WVU, which plays almost all of its games on the road, hopes it can exploit.
“I’ve never played in Beckley, but I’ve heard the field is nice,” said WVU ace Harrison Musgrave, this week’s Louisville Slugger National Player of the Week, who will start Friday’s game on the mound. “That’s an exciting thing, because usually in the southern part of the state, you don’t necessarily want to travel three hours to watch games. It’s good, for however long we have to do this, that other people get an opportunity to watch us play.
“I’m sure in Beckley we’ll get a great crowd. I think those who like baseball are pretty excited.”
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Tickets for the weekend’s series, which includes game on Friday, Saturday (4 p.m.) and Sunday (1 p.m.) are available at Little General Stores in Raleigh, Fayette and Wyoming counties or by calling the West Virginia Miners at 304-242-7233.
— E-mail: chuffman
@register-herald.com and follow on Twitter @CamHuffmanRH.