Sizzling run by WVU cut short in Big 12 finals
West Virginia had no tournament losses, a 3-0 record and a real need to beat Texas Christian in the final game of the Big 12 tournament.
Texas Christian had one tournament loss, a good enough regular season record to know it would host one of the 16 NCAA tournament regionals and the comfort of an impressive record to dangle in front of the selection committee’s collective noses.
The Mountaineers had beaten Oklahoma (6-0), Texas Tech (9-4) and Oklahoma again (11-1) before seeing Texas Christian in Sunday’s championship game.
After sputtering through much of its schedule, the Mountaineers finally began picking off conference teams one by one and winning all their non-conference games (against Marshall, Pitt, Maryland and William & Mary). There was a 10-game winning streak, the longest in the nation at the time.
Entering the Big 12 tournament, West Virginia was 33-20 . . . but had the winning ways come too late for an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament itself? No West Virginia team had been to the NCAA tournament for 20 straight seasons.
West Virginia trailed Texas Christian, 8-0, in the early going of the championship game . . . before catching fire and taking a 10-9 lead after five full innings. but then the Mountaineers did not score in the sixth, seventh, eighth or ninth innings while the purple-clad Horned Frogs tied the game with a run in the top of the ninth.
The West Virginia season was backed into a corner. The paint was wet and the Mountaineers had no room for error. But Texas Christian scored a single run in the tenth. Without any answer to the Horned Frogs’ last run, West Virginia’s season would be over.
There was no more offense coming . . . and the 2016 season ended with a 36-21 record . . . and a airplane ticket back to Morgantown.
Pitcher Chad Donato had been named to the All-Big 12 first team. Pitchers B.J. Myers and Ross Vance had finished with 5-3 and 7-3 records. Freshman Ivan Vera batted a crisp .391 and both Darius Hill (.342) and Jackson Cramer (.300) had reached the magical .300 or better mark.
West Virginia had closed its season by winning 15 of the last 19 games it played.
But there was no NCAA Tournament bid waiting in the wings for the 20th consecutive season.
There were 31 teams receiving automatic bids as conference champions. Some of them play in conferences so lacking in talent and capable teams that they come to the NCAA event with a losing record. Then there are Bethune Cookman, Alabama State, Utah Valley, Stetson and Princeton that have virtually no chance to be crowned the 2016 national champion at the College World Series in Omaha.
The Atlantic Coast Conference had 10 teams selected including Duke, Boston College, Wake Forest and Georgia Tech that combined for a 1-7 record in last week’s league tournament.
In its glory days when Steve Harrick was West Virginia’s coach the Mountaineers were the regular-as-German-clockwork champions of the old Southern Conference. Harrick’s teams were an annual visitor to the NCAA District 3 tournament held in Gastonia, North Carolina.
West Virginia never won the District 3 Tournament, but it lost to teams like Florida State, Wake Forest, Duke and Florida from 1960 through 1965.
A 3-1 record in the Big 12 tournament wasn’t good enough. Duke (0-1), Boston College (0-1), Georgia Tech (0-3) and Wake Forest (1-2) in ACC tournament play had been given at-large bids instead of the Mountaineers.