Interest, attendance growing as Mountaineers achieve ranking
SHEPHERDSTOWN – After getting two wins in a three-game series in Morgantown against conference opponent Texas Tech, interest was bubbling concerning West Virginia’s baseball team.
The Mountaineers were 22-13 overall, were one game over .500 in the highly competitive Big 12 Conference race and were ranked 25th in the country by a collegiate baseball poll.
Crowds were coming. On evenings when the weather was conducive to sitting in the modern grandstand, attendance had reached over 3,300 on several occasions.
Baseball was fun again in Morgantown. And leaving the drab conditions and antiquated facilities at Hawley Field had helped recruiting, area interest and even made winning likely.
How are the Mountaineers doing it? Mostly with four quality starting pitchers and closer Sam Kessler.
With the weather in Morgantown in February and most of March being addictive only to skiers or outdoor ice skaters, the Mountaineers spent most of the early season away from the Mountain State and in Georgia, Florida and California.
Predictably, they lost more often than they won.
When home games began to dot the schedule, the wins replaced most of the losses and national attention came flowing in. Before the weather cooperated and games came to Monongahela County Ballpark, West Virginia had been noticed only because it defeated then-unbeaten Oregon State on the road.
Warmer days and nights usually mean the hitters are not at such a disadvantage. But even the days/nights in the 60s and low 70s haven’t brought out the games where West Virginia’s hitters are in control.
Even with a 22-13 overall record, there is not a single .300 hitter in the lineup.
Tyler Doanes, the leadoff batter, has a .299 batting average before any games this week or the three-game conference series versus Kansas gets the spotlight this weekend.
Darius Hill has a .294 average and then it’s a drop to the .274 average of Ivan Gonzalez. Marques Inman (.273) and Paul McIntosh (.270) provide RBIs in the middle of Coach Randy Masey’s lineup.
Brandon White usually bats second in the order and he’s batting .264. Shortstop Tevin Tucker is a quality fielder . . . and needs to be with his .187 average. T.J. Lake is also mired below .200 at .187. And first baseman/ third baseman Kevin Brophy does have six home runs, but is slogging along at .167.
The most reliable player is starting pitcher Alex Manoah, a likely early-round draft choice in this year’s Major League selections in early June. Manoah is 5-2 with a 2.08 ERA and has struck out 80 in only 60.2 innings of work. Jackson Wolf has nine starts and has a 2-2 record with a 3.88 ERA. Kade Strowd is 4-3 with a 3.61 ERA and 52 strikeouts in 52.1 innings of work.
When the Mountaineers have a mid-week, non-conference game it is Nick Snyder giving them wins. In all his starts in moving to a 5-1 record, Snyder has pitched at least six innings. His ERA is 1.76 and he’s fanned 44 in 30.2 innings.
Kessler has six saves and a 2-2 record. His ERA is 3.86 and he’s struck out 24 in 18.2 innings.
Entering this week, the Mountaineers had 20 games left, including three-game series with Big 12 rivals Kansas, Texas, TCU and Kansas State. The regular season ends on May 18 in Morgantown after a three-game set against George Washington.
Other non-conference opponents left are Penn State, Marshall, Virginia Tech and Pitt.
Masey’s teams have qualified for one, 64-team NCAA tournament. With the No. 25 ranking and continued health of his four starting pitchers and Kessler, this could be the second Mountaineers team to reach the coveted postseason.
Crowds of over 3,000 come out because of the entertaining and competitive baseball they’ve been shown . . . and the comfortable seating available, cost-available concessions and affordable ticket prices.
Baseball is fun in Morgantown. And the stern conditions and nippy winds of Hawley Field are beginning to fade from the memories of WVU followers.