Crowds keep Mountaineers company
It wasn’t Kevin Costner or even Shoeless Joe Jackson in the film “Field of Dreams” that said “Win and be interesting and they will come.”
But it took winning and the interest people have in the ultra competitive Big 12 Conference to kindle a little fervor concerning West Virginia University’s baseball team.
When the Mountaineers thumped conference rival Kansas State three times toward the end of April, they moved toward the fringes of a possible bid to the 64-team NCAA tournament. Just the fringes, however.
Then last weekend came the final games at dog-eared Hawley Field, a mostly windswept facility on campus that has been host to too many games played on uncomfortable afternoons in the past Marches and Aprils of unconcerned Morgantown.
The opponent would be Texas, a baseball program steeped in national championships, scads of conference titles, a long list of major league players and the confidence bred by enough money to choke a longhorn or black bear.
West Virginia came into the three-game series against Texas with a 7-7 conference record and a 24-16 overall mark. Being eight games above break-even meant the Mountaineers were on a long list with teams from the Southeastern, Atlantic Coast and Pacific 12 conferences that wanted recognition enough to be selected to the NCAA tournament field.
Texas came in with a 10-8 conference record and 31-11 overall mark.
Coached by 75-year-old Augie Garrido, the nation’s winningest coach of all time with over 1,900 victories, the Longhorns were trying to prove their ordinary 2012 and 2013 seasons were finally behind them.
Even though the weather was filled with the typical Morgantown wind, people came to Hawley Field in record numbers.
The three-game series would draw 5,413 fans, including a gathering of 2,237 for Sunday’s finale. The Sunday crowd was the second-largest ever to see a game at Hawley.
West Virginia won the opener, 5-3. Despite managing 11 hits in the second game, the Mountaineers stranded 12 runners and lost 2-0.
With the noisy and appreciative crowd there for the third game, it was West Virginia winning, 12-6, when it banged out 14 hits.
Even though it has no more home games in its quest for a forward finish in the final Big 12 standings, the Mountaineers have caught the attention of the right people — the NCAA administrators who select the at-large teams to the tournament.
With a 9-8 conference record, West Virginia is in a three-team scramble for fourth place in the Big 12 standings.
Both Oklahoma State and resurgent Texas Christian are tied for first place with equal 13-5 records. Kansas, WVU’s opponent for three games this coming weekend in Lawrence, is next at 12-9. The Mountaineers hold a bare percentage points edge over both Texas and Texas Tech, teams with 11-10 records.
Baylor (7-13), Oklahoma (6-12) and Kansas State (4-14) are the three bottom teams.
Kansas just swept three games from Texas Tech last weekend.
After seeing the surly-host Jayhawks, the Mountaineers return to the road for three games in Lubbock against Texas Tech.
And then comes the annual Big 12 tournament beginning on May 21. That well-attended event is played in Oklahoma City at a minor league stadium with adequate lights and the creature comforts always missing at Hawley Field.
The Mountaineers played Virginia Tech at sold-out Hunnicutt Field in Princeton this past Tuesday. All 1,700 tickets to the non-conference date were gone about a week before the game was played.
Next season, WVU coach Randy Mazey can call a newly-opened stadium his home. The facility is located next to I-79 and across the Monongahela River from Hawley’s spartan environment.
But for now, the Mountaineers will be chasing wins in Kansas and Lubbock, hoping to do well enough to gain more NCAA tournament consideration than proven baseball programs like North Carolina, North Carolina State, Clemson and Vanderbilt.