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WVU looks to solidify NCAA tournament credentials

By Staff | May 24, 2019

West Virginia University Senior Darius Hill catches a ball in the outfield, during a recent game. Courtesy photo

SHEPHERDSTOWN – Already ranked solidly in the Top 25 of all the college baseball’s polling services, West Virginia looks to further impress the NCAA with its play in this week’s Big 12 Conference tournament.

Held again in Oklahoma City, the eight-team tournament has a large field of teams, with overall records impressive enough to gain NCAA bids.

West Virginia, with starting pitchers Alek Manoah and Nick Snyder heading its list of impressive players, finished fourth in the conference standings. The Mountaineers faced fifth-seeded Kansas in a first-round game back on Wednesday in a morning start.

At 34-18 overall, West Virginia was ranked anywhere between 19th and 21st among the magazines, periodicals and ratings services that provide such information.

The Mountaineers were 13-11 in Big 12 games, while Kansas defeated arch rival Kansas State twice over the past weekend, to leap to fifth place from seventh, which it occupied before stopping the Wildcats. The Jayhawks compiled a 12-12 conference mark.

Kansas comes in with a 31-24 overall record.

The final regular season conference records of the eight qualifying teams were:

Texas Tech 16-8

Baylor 14-8

Oklahoma State 14-9

West Virginia 13-11

Kansas 12-12

Texas Christian 11-13

Oklahoma 11-13

Kansas State 8-16

The only team not to qualify for the tournament was last-place Texas. Historically as proud as any school in the country, with successful coaches Cliff Gustafson, Augie Garrido and Bibb Falk in the NCAA record books with national championships trailing their legendary names, the Longhorns failed to qualify with a 7-16 conference record and ninth-place finish.

As the No. 4 seed, West Virginia was placed in a four-team bracket with not only No. 5 seed Kansas but also No. 1 seed Texas Tech and No. 8 seed Kansas State. Those four teams will play through a double elimination format until a survivor emerges.

In another bracket are No. 2 seed Baylor, No. 3 seed Oklahoma State, No. 6 seed Texas Christian and No. 7 seed Oklahoma. That foursome will also play through a double elimination format until a survivor emerges.

The two winners of the brackets will play for the Big 12 Conference tournament championship.

West Virginia enters the event with pitchers Alek Manoah, a projected first-round selection in the June 3 Major League Baseball draft of amateurs players, and Nick Snyder as its leaders.

Manoah went 8-3 with a 1.91 ERA and struck out 125 in 94.1 innings of work. The opposition batted .189 against him. Snyder was 8-1 with a 1.95 ERA he struck out 86 in 55.1 innings and the opposition batted .159 against him.

The other Mountaineer starting pitchers have been Jackson Wolfe (2-4 record, 4.75 ERA, 13 starts) and Kade Strowd (5-5 record, 4.64 ERA, 14 starts and only a .229 batting average against him).

West Virginia’s closer is Sam Kessler (4-2 record, 2.64 ERA, eight saves, 21 appearances and .216 batting average against him).

The leading hitters are Darius Hill with a .308 average, 38 RBIs and 42 runs scored; Tyler Doanes at .308; Ivan Gonzalez at .286; and Paul McIntosh at .282, with nine home runs.

The next step would be the NCAA tournament itself, where 64 teams are selected to play. That event has 16 Regionals, with four teams in each Regional.

Even if West Virginia does not win the conference tournament, it is expected to receive a bid to the NCAA tournament, virtue of its regular season excellence.