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Standing seventh in the Big 12 Conference, but only one game out of fifth, West Virginia’s baseball team isn’t as far out of the race for a decent seed in the league championship or an NCAA Tournament bid as its 4-8 league record might look at first glance.
The Mountaineers, who are 20-18 overall, have series remaining with Kansas, TCU and Baylor — all teams they are clustered with in the standings.
Before those chances to move up, though, WVU has an even bigger one.
Texas (29-15, 11-4), currently standing in third place in the league, comes to Monongalia County Ballpark on Friday for a three-game series.
Just one win over the weekend would help West Virginia, while getting two would be huge in both the league standings and its case for an NCAA Tournament at-large bid.
These are the games that will likely make or break WVU’s season, as it needs to get league victories against quality teams to not only get back closer to .500 in conference contests, but also to bump its RPI, which dropped after Tuesday’s extra-inning win against No. 181 Marshall.
As of Thursday, the Mountaineers were 33rd according to WarrenNolan.com, while Texas stood three spots ahead at No. 30.
They are two of five Big 12 teams in the RPI Top 35.
With eight Mountaineers on the current roster from the Lone Star State, WVU is definitely motivated to perform well against the Horns.
Most were overlooked by the University of Texas, and thus use that as extra fuel for motivation.
The Mountaineers are 9-6 overall against UT since joining the league, including a 5-1 record in Morgantown.
West Virginia recorded a series sweep two years ago in the Horns’ only visit to Monongalia County Ballpark.
Although UT is back to its normal position as a contender for national honors, West Virginia won’t back down.
“You don’t have to motivate our guys to play against the Longhorns,” head coach Randy Mazey said as he looked ahead to the weekend series. “They look at this series at the beginning of the year when we get the schedule. We have got some Texas kids, and they take a lot of pride when they play against Texas. (They have) one of the most storied traditions in the history of college baseball. How could you not get excited about it? I think our guys will come out and play really, really hard this weekend.”
West Virginia will need good play from a number of its Texas natives in order to continue its winning ways in the series. Catcher Ivan Gonzalez (Round Rock, Texas) has been hitting the ball better of late, and provides stellar defensive play.
Second baseman Kyle Gray (Blanco, Texas) continues to lead the team in hitting, and is coming off a four-RBI performance in the win over Marshall, while right fielder Darius Hill (Dallas) hopes to continue his recent tear that has raised his batting average to .311.
On the mound, Texas natives are expected to get two of the starts, with B.J. Myers (Flower Mound) and Kade Strowd (Fort Worth) hoping to hold UT bats in check on Friday and Saturday, respectively.
It’s not going to be an easy task, of course.
Texas boasts a good pitching staff that has performed well all year.
“They are very deep, and they are going to put a quality guy on the mound every time,” Mazey told IMG’s Dan Zangrilli on Thursday. “We have our work cut out for us.”
The Longhorns (29-15, 11-4 Big 12) are ranked as high as No. 19 in three polls and are in the top-25 in all of the six major rankings.
Texas is in second place in the Big 12 standings, one game out of first place.
WVU hosts the No. 19 Longhorns at Monongalia County Ballpark beginning today at 6:30 p.m.
The series continues on Saturday at 4 p.m. before Sunday’s finale at 1 p.m.
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