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#17 Mountaineers Travel to Austin to Take the Horns Down

West Virginia looks to stay hot as they continue their ascent to the top of the Big XII standings.

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The Mountaineers sing “Country Roads” after a win
Mike Miller/The Smoking Musket

For the second consecutive week, WVU has had their midweek games cancelled due to inclement weather. After traveling up to Happy Valley last week just to have the game called, the Nittany Lions came down to Morgantown this week for Mother Nature to not let them play.

Instead, the #17 Mountaineers (24-14) (8-7) got some extra practice in and some rest before heading out to Austin, Texas for a weekend series against the Texas Longhorns (24-19) (5-9).

That #17 ranking is the highest WVU baseball has been ranked since the 1980’s. We are, officially, a baseball school - I’m declaring it.

Who to Watch For: Texas Longhorns

The Longhorns are placed right in the middle of baseball country, so you’d think they’d have a perennially dominant team (of course, we say the same thing about football... and basketball... ah, never mind). Texas has won just 1 Big XII series this season (March 15-17 against Texas Tech), and split 2 vs. Baylor thanks to a cancelled Sunday finale, but have dropped series’ against TCU and Kansas State, and got swept last weekend at Oklahoma State. So needless to say, they’re struggling.

On the season, they’re averaging 5.6 runs per game and are batting .250 as a unit. They are bottom-middle in the conference in every offensive and defensive team statistic, although offensively, they really aren’t much different from the Mountaineers.

  • Austin Todd (Jr., RF) bats cleanup for the Longhorns and does it well. He’s 7th in the Big XII with 35 RBI’s on the season, while batting .261 with 10 doubles, 2 triples and 3 home runs. He’s also scored 29 times and stolen 7 bases.
  • Duke Ellis (Jr., CF) is the leadoff guy for UT and he scores A LOT. He’s tied for 2nd in the Big XII in runs scored (38) because he gets on-base 41% of the time due to his plate discipline, which has resulted in a team-leading 41 walks to go along with his .245 batting average. He also has stolen 11 bases without being caught once this year, which is really good.
  • Ryan Reynolds (Jr., 3B) is another solid player for Texas. No, it’s not THAT Ryan Reynolds (we know how certain Hollywood stars are obsessed with UT... *cough Matthew McConaughey cough*). Reynolds bats .272 and is tied for the team-lead in hits (41) and typically bats 5th in the order. He’s driven in a respectable 21 runs on 9 doubles and 2 HR’s, so he is a fairly dangerous bat in the lineup.
  • Cole Quintanilla (R. Fr., RHP) leads the Longhorns with 4 saves on the season. I’m hesitant to call him their closer, because 6 other guys have tallied at least 1 save this season for UT. However, Quintanilla has been the most effective. In 26.1 innings, he has a 3.76 ERA with 34 strikeouts and just 7 walks.

The Matchups

Friday, April 26th at 7:30PM ET

Alek Manoah (6-2, 1.81 ERA) vs. Bryce Elder (2-3, 3.05 ERA)

As you probably know, Manoah has tossed 31 consecutive scoreless innings. That’s really good. He’s also pitched back-to-back complete game shutouts, tallying 15 strikeouts in each game. He’s pitched himself into legit consideration for the Collegiate Baseball Pitcher of the Year, not to mention being a top draft pick in June’s MLB Draft. So yeah, good luck Texas!

Elder has had a curious year. The sophomore RHP started the season red hot, allowing just 3 runs in 20.2 innings against Louisiana, Purdue and LSU, but has struggled since Big XII play begun. He’s allowed 17 runs in just 32.2 innings, equaling a 4.75 ERA, which is not good. He has struck out 62 batters in 62.0 innings, but opponents are batting .261 against him, so he is definitely hittable.

Saturday, April 27th at 3:30PM ET

Jackson Wolf (2-2, 3.61 ERA) vs. Blair Henley (6-2, 3.81 ERA)

Wolf turned in a quality start his last time out vs. Kansas, allowing just 1 run in 6 innings and striking out 5. As has happened a few times for him this year, the bullpen surrendered the lead late in the game, forcing Wolf into a no-decision. I’m sure he doesn't mind, because his team just keep on winning. He gives up a lot of hits (opponents bat .272 against him), but he’s good at limiting the damage and keeping the Mountaineers in the game.

Henley has pitched well for most of this year, being hit hard in just 2 games. Unfortunately for him and the Longhorns, those have occurred in Big XII play. He gave up 5 runs against both Baylor and Oklahoma State, which put his team in a bad position to win the ballgame. He is tied with Manoah and others for the Big XII lead in wins (6) and has allowed just 1 home run in 59.0 innings.

Sunday, April 28th at 1:00PM ET

Kade Strowd (4-4, 4.13 ERA) vs. TBD

Strowd has been streaky this season. He’s had really good games vs. Oregon State (when he won Pitcher of the Week), Georgia Southern, William & Mary, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, but has had really bad games vs. Kent State, Baylor and Kansas. Ultimately, Strowd is Coach Mazey’s Sunday starter, and although Nick Snyder hasn't started in almost 3 weeks now, I don’t expect him to take this job from Strowd anytime soon. To his credit, Strowd is extremely good at missing bats. Opponents are batting just .206 against him in 2019, which would lead the team if Alek Manoah didn’t exist (.170 BAA). Although he got shelled last week vs. Kansas, I fully expect Strowd to be better this Sunday, and if the stats hold up, Texas will be hard pressed to get hits off him.

The Longhorns haven’t announced their Sunday starter yet. They’re got several options, though. Last week, they started Ty Madden (3-1, 2.22 ERA) against Oklahoma State, who gave up just 1 unearned run in 2 innings. He’ll likely start again, but UT employs the “opener” sometimes, a relatively new concept in baseball that replicates the closer, just at the beginning of a game. The guy throws 1-3 innings before being pulled in favor of another starting caliber pitcher as a way of keeping the opponent off-balance and getting the best stuff out of each guy. To this end, UT has started Matt Whelan, Matteo Bocchi, Coy Cobb, Owen Meaney, Jack Neely and Kolby Kubichek at different times this season. We’ll see who they go with on Sunday in the finale.

West Virginia will be going for their 5th straight Big XII series win this weekend in Austin. You can catch the game on the WatchESPN app or MountaineerTV, you can listen to the WVU broadcast here, or follow live stats here.

Let’s go, Mountaineers!