The West Virginia Mountaineers (34-18, 13-11) enter the Big 12 Baseball Tournament as the 4th seed in a double-elimination tournament that could help the Mountaineers host a NCAA regional for the first time in program history. The Mountaineers finished won six conference series, the most for the program since 2003, when the ‘Eers were in the old Big East. That 2003 team went 36-19, including 18-6 in conference play. Despite the fantastic season, West Virginia failed to qualify for the College World Series that year.
Now West Virginia enters the Big 12 Tournament with a College World Series berth all but assured and the dream of finally hosting a regional dependent on a solid tournament run. Two years ago, the Mountaineers rode a semi-final appearance in the Big 12 Tournament to their first CWS appearance in 11 years.
Big 12 Tournament
The Big 12 Tournament is a double-elimination tournament featuring the top 8 teams in the Big 12. The eight teams are seeded based on conference standing and inserted into one of two four-team brackets.
The Texas Tech Red Raiders locked up the #1 seed Saturday afternoon when the finale of the Baylor-Oklahoma State series was cancelled and couldn’t be rescheduled. This rainout cost the Bears a conference game. TTU finishes the season with 16 conference wins and ranked 10th in the nation. The Red Raiders are projected as a top 8 national seed and the regular season conference title guarantees the Red Raiders will host a regional series.
The #2 seed is the Baylor Bears, who finished the season 14-8 in conference, thanked their lucky stars when Saturday’s game against the Cowboys was washed out. The cancelled game meant the Bears were locked in at #2 despite being swept by Oklahoma State. The rainout also meant that the Cowboys finished the season at #3 at 14-9, a half game behind the Baylor Bears.
West Virginia comes in at 4th after they finished their conference series a week earlier, their sixth conference series they won this season. The Mountaineers finished the season with a dominating win against their rival, Pitt Panthers, which included the WVU rendition of “Sweet Caroline” then a series win against George Washington. The Mountaineers are on the cusp of hosting a regional series in College World Series. A good run in the Big 12 tournament could secure that dream.
The Kansas Jayhawks (12-12) are fifth in conference after sweeping their double header against the rival Kansas State Wildcats on Sunday. Kansas last made the NCAA Tournament in 2014.
The TCU Horned Frogs finish the season 6th at 11-13 in conference play. The Horned Frogs have made the Big 12 Tournament every year since joining the Big 12 and from 2014-2017 made four straight College World Series appearances (winning both their Regional and Super Regional tournaments). The Frogs have fallen a bit, finishing below .500 for the second straight year after being at least .500 or better since joining the conference. The Frogs took 2 of 3 from West Virginia, ending their conference series winning streak. The Frogs finished the year losing their series to Texas Tech.
Oklahoma Sooners come in at 7th place, losing the tie-breaker to TCU after their series loss in April. The Sooners enter the tournament with the second-best team ERA (3.61) behind only the Mountaineers. The Sooners are also second in the league in walks drawn.
The Kansas State Wildcats come in at 8th, meaning the Texas Longhorns, a preseason contender who were nationally ranked, stumbled once conference play started thanks to injuries and ineffectiveness. The Longhorns finished 7-16 in conference and clinched last place on Friday night.
#4 West Virginia vs #5 Kansas Preview
WVU is led by a pair of juniors, right-hander Alek Manoah and left-hander Nick Snyder. The pair of Mountaineers are the only two pitchers in the Big 12 with ERAs under 2.00 (Manoah at 1.91, Snyder at 1.95). Manoah led the league in strikeouts but Snyder actually led the league in strikeouts per 9, averaging over 13 Ks per 9 innings pitched.
The pair of pitchers will give the Mountaineers an advantage in a Big 12 region that features Texas Tech, who finished 2nd in batting average, first in on-base percentage and second in slugging percentage. The Red Raiders were league leaders in runs scored, doubles and hits.
Offensively, West Virginia will rely on Darius Hill - who set the team record for career doubles - and Tyler Doanes. Doanes slashed .308/.399/.512/.911 on the season while Hill hit .308/.364/.517/.881. Those two, along with DH Paul McIntosh, help provide the offense for a team that can get thin in the lower portion of the order.
The Mountaineer first game will be against the Kansas Jayhawks who ended their season with a sweep of their conference rivals, the K-St Wildcats. The Jayhawks finished 8th in conference in ERA and dead last in K/9. KU also finished dead last in team batting average and 8th in slugging.
The first game of the Big 12 Tournament is Wednesday, May 22. Follow the Smoking Musket for updates, recaps and more as the Mountaineers make a push to host a regional in Morgantown.