Missing Bergert, West Virginia pitching couldn’t manage Big 12 rivals
SHEPHERDSTOWN — When West Virginia hosted an NCAA Regional baseball tournament in 2019, it had freshman pitcher Ryan Bergert as one of its trusted pillars.
And then there was the forgettable 2020 season, lost mostly to the worldwide virus.
When the 2021 season made its debut, Bergert couldn’t pitch because of an off-season injury. And West Virginia could not replace his valuable innings.
After losing two of three games to Texas in Austin, the Mountaineers had closed out the regular season with a 23-25 record . . . in a tie with Kansas for last place in the nine-team conference . . . with 5.40 team earned run average . . . with a .251 team batting average, and opponents had managed to outscore the Mountaineers, 304-249.
Obviously, Bergert wasn’t the reason for the sparse offense the team showed on too many nights, but his presence probably would have meant a winning season.
Infielder Tevin Tucker, a two-year starter at shortstop, also missed the entire season. Tucker was a reliable fielder, but had seasonal batting averages of .170 and .199 in 2020 and 2019.
Every team in the big 12 Conference qualified for the league tournament, but WVU and Kansas had to see each other in a play-in game on Tuesday, just to be allowed to enter the double elimination part of the event with the other seven conference teams.
Texas Christian and Texas both had had 17-7 league records at the top of the standings.
With Bergert missing, tall left-hander Jackson Wolf (6-foot-7, 200 pounds) became the bellwether pitcher. Wolf had a 5-5 record and 3.26 ERA for the season.
After Wolf had pitched in the usual three-game weekend series against conference foes, the troubles often began for the Mountaineers.
Ben Hampton had 10 starts and a 4.96 ERA, Adam Tulloch had eight starts and a 6.27 ERA and Reed Carlson started five times and finished with a 5.64 ERA. During much of March and April, Jake Carr was a starter, but his 9.62 ERA was eventually replaced.
Going into the conference tournament, Austin Davis was the team’s lone starter with a batting average of over .300. He carried a .317 average with 16 stolen bases in 19 attempts into the tournament.
Matt McCormick batted .279 with seven homers, Paul McIntosh batted .270 with eight homers, Hudson Byorick hit .271 and Vince Ippoliti had a .275 average going into the Oklahoma City-based tournament.
A handful of regulars batted in the .230’s or .220’s. Victor Scott (.239), Alec Burns (.238), Nathan Blasick (.239), Barry Braden (.234), Tyler Doanes (,229), Dominic Ragazzo (.222) and Kevin Brophy (.212 and eight homers) all seemed to struggle at times. Freshman Mikey Kluska roared out to a successful start to his season, but then slumped and missed the last games with an injury. His batting average was down to .242 when he was sidelined for the year.
Should West Virginia have beaten Kansas in what amounted to a play-in game, it would have seen Texas in its first game in the double elimination part of the tournament. Texas was awarded the No. 1 seed as a result of what it did against Texas Christian in the regular season.
Many of the Big 12 teams will qualify for at-large berths into the NCAA tournament.
For West Virginia, getting a healthy Bergert back on its staff would do wonders for its 2022 season. Tucker is expected to return next season.
The likes of Texas, Texas Christian, Texas Tech, Baylor, Oklahoma State and Oklahoma will usually present quality baseball teams. They will make WVU hustle and recruit well to keep pace.