WVU baseball: Mountaineers face key series against Oklahoma
MORGANTOWN - West Virginia baseball's five-game winning streak and run of 11 straight home wins came to an end Tuesday night at Hawley Field in a 7-6 loss to No. 17 Pitt. In years past, an occasion like that late in April might mean the end of meaningful moments for the Mountaineers.
The present is different, though, and WVU returns to Appalachian Power Park tonight for the start of a three-game series against No. 10 Oklahoma.
The Sooners (33-12, 10-5 Big 12) were the preseason favorites and are in first place in the Big 12. The Mountaineers (27-19, 9-6) were picked to finish last in the coaches' preseason poll.
A series sweep could put WVU in first place in the standings. A series win could force a tie for first. Either is subject to what Baylor (24-20, 11-6) does in a three-game series at Kansas.
"I don't know that there's been that defining moment for us yet," West Virginia Coach Randy Mazey said. "Usually there is one in a season when something happens and you realize it's a defining moment. Maybe it's still coming, but we haven't had that yet.
"I think it's been a gradual thing. It's taken this team a while to get to know the coaching staff and what we're all about and the way we attack things. And it's taken a while for us to get to know them."
Tonight's game starts at 6:30 p.m. Saturday's game starts at 4 p.m. Sunday's game starts at 1 p.m. Tickets are $7 for reserved seats and $5 for general admission when purchased in advance with the West Virginia Power box office or by calling 304-344-BATS (2287).
Game day prices are $9 for reserved seating and $7 for general admission.
Each game will be carried by WVUsports.com and select affiliates of the Mountaineer Sports Network. Saturday's game also will be broadcast on SiriusXM Channel 91. Live video, audio and stats will also be available at WVUsports.com.
The Sooners are No. 2 in the Big 12 in batting (.298) and No. 4 in ERA (2.84). Matt Oberste leads or is tied for the lead in batting average (.427), runs (42), home runs (10), doubles (17), RBI (48), total bases (128), on-base percentage (.493) and slugging percentage (.749).
Oklahoma also has one of the country's top pitchers. Jonathan Gray (8-1) is tied for the Big 12 lead in wins, leads in strikeouts (98 in 11 games) and opponent's batting average (.152) and is second in ERA (1.10), though that's the best among starters.
"They can really pitch, they can really hit and they get really play defense," Mazey said. "It's another one of those series where we have to be sharp in all three areas of baseball to try and win the series."
The Mountaineers will counter with talent of their own. They're No. 4 in the Big 12 in batting average (.280). Third baseman Ryan Tuntland leads the team with a .344 batting average and has seven doubles, one triple, two home runs and 26 RBI. Left fielder Jacob Rice is batting .331 with 12 doubles, two homers, 21 RBIs and eight stolen bases. First baseman Ryan McBroom and designated hitter and Nitro High graduate Matt Frazer have a team-high 31 RBI.
WVU also has one of the league's best pitchers in left-handed Harrison Musgrave, the Big 12 pitcher of the week the last two weeks. He's thrown back-to-back shutouts in league play and has 26 consecutive scoreless innings. After missing last season following Tommy John Surgery, Musgrave is 7-1 with a 2.36 ERA overall and 4-0 with a 0.97 ERA in Big 12 games. He leads the Big 12 in conference wins and is No. 3 in strikeouts.
"He's doing it against pretty good competition and he's gotten results because of the process," Mazey said. "He's really re-committed himself to the weight room, to nutrition, to being enthusiastic and passionate and showing better energy on the field. He's a perfect example of how when you focus on what you're supposed to do, you'll get good results."
Whether fans will get to see Gray, a likely first-round pick, and Musgrave against one another is unclear as Mazey suggested some gamesmanship is afoot before the series.
"Who knows when their guy is going to pitch and we don't know when Harrison is going to go just yet," Mazey said. "Both of those guys are fun to watch, so if you're a fan of Big 12 baseball or baseball in general, this will be a really good weekend to come out and watch."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at email@example.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.