Baseball no longer overlooked at WVU
SHEPHERDSTOWN — What sort of competition will WVU see when the baseball season commences in the Big 12?
To answer that, you have to look at where two polls place the now-ready Mountaineers. A preseason poll reckons WVU will finish sixth in the Big 12, where Texas Tech, TCU and Texas are expected to rule.
But looking at one national poll, WVU is ranked 14th overall against everybody in the land. Sixth against the conference; 14th against the world?
After closing the pandemic-riddled door on baseball in early March last year, the NCAA has given the players a virtual do-over for this uncharted season. If you were a sophomore in 2020, you will be a sophomore in 2021. Every player from last season has the same eligibility here in 2021.
Coaches can have larger rosters. Incoming freshmen are welcomed the same as always, although more of them are likely to be redshirted.
Many players from 2020, especially seniors, have moved on, and did not return to enjoy what will hopefully be a full season of games.
In its last full season of baseball, WVU was flush with wins, managing well enough to host an NCAA Regional tournament at its comfortable home stadium.
The Mountaineers seemed well-positioned to replicate the successful 2019 season last year, because there was a deep and well-defined pitching staff in hand. A substantial number of those players have decided to forgo the chance to continue their college careers.
The most highly-prized of the returning pitchers are Jackson Wolf, Ryan Bergert and Zach Ottinger. Wolf even won three games in the severely bob-tailed 2020 season. Bergert was a late-season freshman bloomer in 2019.
Coach Randy Mazey has a large influx of promising freshman pitchers — at least four of them will have significant roles.
Tyler Downes (second base), Paul McIntosh (catcher-dh), Kevin Brophy (infield-outfield), Tevin Tucker (shortstop) and Vince Ippoliti (catcher-dh) are the few starters from 2020.
Outfielders Austin Davis and Alec Burns also return from last year’s team.
The season will begin later than in previously less-stressful times. That change should benefit the players who usually don’t profit in 45-degree temperatures, where the wind is as nasty as anybody’s 90 mile-per-hour fastball.
Baseball is fashionably important at WVU. So large is baseball in the Big 12, that real embarrassment could stain the university if the team were still playing at threadbare Hawley Field.
Monongalia Stadium comfortably seats 3,000 and in a night when there is no rain in the forecast and the temperature is supposed to be fit for man or beast any WVU game is an entertaining event.
Are these Mountaineers the 14th-best team in the country, or will the competition and coronavirus pull off a double play against them?