With six games left on the regular season schedule, West Virginia has to take advantage of every chance possible to add to their resume. The Mountaineers will get that chance this weekend when they travel to Norman, Oklahoma, to play the Sooners in their final road trip of the regular season.
As of Thursday, both West Virginia (29-18) and Oklahoma (29-17) were projected NCAA Tournament teams. The Sooners are considered a No. 2 seed by both Baseball America and D1Baseball’s tournament projections, while West Virginia is considered a No. 3 seed by both publications.
West Virginia comes into this weekend having lost three of their last four conference series, and is in desperate need of a marquee series win to not only advance their seeding for the Big 12 Tournament, but to stay alive for the NCAA Tournament.
RPI, which is a computer-based rankings system, has the Mountaineers at No. 36, while it has the Sooners just five spots ahead of them at No. 31.
“You don’t want to play for results, but you can’t ignore the results. In our sport, RPI means about everything. We’re sitting in a good spot right now as long as we do what we’re supposed to do against two of the best offensive teams in the Big 12 coming up,” West Virginia head coach Randy Mazey said.
The Sooners will look to continue momentum they have built as of late. Oklahoma has won three consecutive Big 12 series, and will look to carry that momentum into this weekend against the Mountaineers.
“Oklahoma is playing as good as they have all season. We’re on the road, and it’s so hard to win on the road, but to go down there and win a game or two as far as the RPI goes would really give us a boost,” Mazey said.
The Sooners are led offensively by the middle of their lineup. Peyton Graham, Blake Robertson, and Tanner Tredaway anchor the middle of the Oklahoma batting order, and have carried this team offensively all season.
Robertson leads the team in average, hitting .367 on the season, while Tredaway and Graham follow suit, as they are hitting .342 and .341 on the season. Graham also leads all Sooners with 12 home runs on the year and 45 RBI.
Since conference play began, Oklahoma ranks first in the Big 12 with 166 runs scored. West Virginia will turn to Jake Watters on Friday night to try and slow down this explosive Sooner lineup.
Last time out, Watters struck out 15 Texas batters, but was charged with four runs, in a 5-2 loss to the Longhorns last Saturday. Watters has a 7.45 ERA since the beginning of conference play and West Virginia has not won a game he has started since Apr. 8 against Baylor.
For Watters, he has given up four or more runs in four of his last five starts, and Mazey hopes he looks more like he did this past Saturday down the stretch of the regular season.
“If he would do that every time out then we’d still have a chance to do some things. If he would come out and pitch like that his next two outings, give us a chance to win two more games in the league, that really would help,” Mazey said last Saturday after the loss to Texas.
On Saturday, West Virginia will more than likely turn to Ben Hampton, who struggled mightily against Texas’ powerful lineup.
Hampton pitched 3.1 innings, allowing seven hits, and four runs, including allowing two home runs, as the Mountaineers lost 11-0. After being one of West Virginia’s most consistent arms to start the season, Hampton has also struggled as of late. In his last three starts, Hampton has not made it out of the fourth inning, and has allowed seven or more hits in all three starts.
On Sunday, things could get interesting again for the Mountaineers and their pitching staff. After not using Chase Smith, Trey Braithwaite, or Noah Short all last weekend, Mazey used the three to cover 8.2 innings on Sunday, after starting pitcher Zach Bravo was pulled in the first inning.
“We know where we are. We know what we need to do. More than anything it’s just go out there and winning a baseball game. We take it one day at a time, not really looking too far into the future,” West Virginia outfielder Braden Barry said of his team’s mindset heading into this weekend.
Barry has been one of the bright spots for West Virginia offensively recently. The Mountaineers rank last in the Big 12 in batting average, and last total number of hits.
Barry has hit safely in nine of his last 13 games played, with three of those games being multi-hit games. Since May began, Barry has three home runs to his name, including a three-run blast on Tuesday against Pitt that broke the game open.
Barry and the rest of the Mountaineers will get the series going on Friday night. First pitch for Friday night’s game between West Virginia and Oklahoma is set for 7:30 p.m. EST, from L. Dale Mitchell Park in Norman, Oklahoma. Game two is set for 3 p.m. EST on Saturday, while game three is set for 1 p.m. EST on Sunday.