Coming off the program's biggest series win over Oklahoma, West Virginia must regain its focus and look toward TCU. The Horned Frogs are a strong program going through a tough season, but the positioning of this series could be a tough one for WVU. The wins over previously tenth-ranked Oklahoma, followed next week by the regular season-ending set with Oklahoma State, puts TCU in the position of springing a trap on the rising Mountaineers.
TCU is 23-24 record, including 8-10 in the Big 12, and that record makes it appear that WVU should walk over TCU on its way to the final weekend battle with the Cowboys. However, closer inspection reveals that the Frogs have the best ERA in the league during conference games only, and the second best ERA overall. TCU sports two starting pitchers with ERAs below 2.00.
Starter Brandon Finnegan is tied for the conference lead in complete games with WVU's Harrison Musgrave. And while Musgrave leads the conference in opponent batting average in conference games, Finnegan is seventh. That's a nice comparison of number one starters, but the problem is that Finnegan isn't even TCU's ace. That designation, at least in terms to this season's success, belongs to Preston Morrison (6-2, 1.43).
TCU also brings the league's best defense to Charleston. The Horned Frogs have committed a mere 49 errors on the season, good for a .975 fielding percentage. By contrast, the Mountaineers are the worst defensive team in the Big 12 with a .962 fielding percentage that includes 71 errors. The Mountaineers do match up better in conference play, having committed 22 errors to TCU's 20.
WVU's defensive issues were on display for all to see in Friday's 4-3 loss to Oklahoma. Mountaineer miscues led to the two decisive unearned runs that turned what should have been an excellent win into a 10-inning loss. Issues with fielding bunts led to three base hits and two errors over the weekend, all of which cost West Virginia runs on the scoreboard.
On the other hand, stellar WVUa defensive plays on Saturday and Sunday led directly to the two victories. Recovering beautifully from Friday night, Taylor Munden made several excellent plays and Bobby Boyd and Brady Wilson each turned in spectacular diving catches that robbed Oklahoma of extra bases and runs.
Not to be overlooked is the WVU offense, which exploded out of its shell against Oklahoma's Johnny Gray on Friday for nine hits and 3 runs. Gray had allowed but 42 hits on the season coming into the game. WVU followed that performance up with another 12-hit outburst including two home runs and a double in the 9-3 Saturday thumping, and closed out the weekend with an 11-hit barrage that included a homer and three doubles in the 9-4 series clinching victory.
The Mountaineers will again go with a weekend rotation of Harrison Musgrave on Friday, Dan Dierdorff on Saturday and John Means on Sunday.
Musgrave (7-1, 2.38 ERA) is coming off another excellent outing this past week against Oklahoma. The sophomore tossed seven innings of two-run, four-hit baseball, walking an uncharacteristic four but fanning 11 Sooners. Musgrave is tied for first in wins, second in strikeouts and tops in the league in opponent batting average.
Dierdorff (4-5, 4.31) is coming off his third consecutive Saturday win, and second straight Big 12 Saturday win. His performance helped reverse a Mountaineer drought in Saturday league games. Against the Sooners, the WVU senior tossed 6 2/3 innings while allowing three runs, walking one and fanning eight. Pascal Paul picked up his team leading seventh save of the season with 2 1/3 innings of relief for WVU. Paul will be counted on heavily again if the bullpen.
Means (4-2, 2.97) is coming off an outing where he clearly was not at his best, but might have pitched his best game. Means said he was leaving his bread and butter changeup up in the zone to Sooner hitters and they were pounding it early, but managed to work around that flaw. Though he allowed 11 base hits, he only walked one batter while striking out five. Because of his struggles, Means hit his pitch limit through six innings and WVU once again had to visit the bullpen with a seemingly comfortable 8-2 lead.
West Virginia's offense drove in 21 runs in the three game series against Oklahoma, twice scoring nine runs. The prior series against Kansas the Mountaineers scored only eight runs in the three game sweep. It was the second time WVU has scored 21 runs in a conference series. The first time was a 2-1 series loss to Kansas State where the Mountaineers scored 13 runs in the Friday victory.
TCU comes into the series off a series victory over Southern California. The series win makes TCU 3-1 in their last four weekend series, including victories over Baylor and Oklahoma State.
The Horned Frogs have battled back nicely to reach 23-24 after losing their first six games and seven of their first eight. TCU also suffered another rough stretch in March where it dropped six of seven.
Ryan McBroom needs two more home runs to move into a tie for the ninth most in a season at WVU. The WVU record of 19 is shared by Mark Landers (1994) and San Diego Padres rookie Jedd Gyorko. McBroom belted his ninth and 10th of the season against Oklahoma last week. McBroom is tied for most home runs in the Big 12 with Oklahoma first baseman Matt Oberste.
* * *
Brady Wilson's 19 stolen bases ties him for eightth most in a season at WVU. Wilson currently sits third in the Big 12 in stolen bases behind Texas Tech's Brett Bell's 29.
* * *
Paul's seven saves ties him for third most in a season at WVU. Mike Martz holds the record of 10, set in 1994. Jordan Piche' of Kansas leads the Big 12 in saves with 10. Interestingly WVU has hung a loss on all three closers ahead of Paul; Piche', Oklahoma's Jacob Evans (8) and Texas' Corey Knebel (8).
* * *
The Mountaineers pulled in a West Virginia college baseball record 3,279 fans in the 4,500 seat Appalachian Power Park on Friday for the matchup with Oklahoma. On Saturday another 2,250 fans came through the gates, and to top things off another 1,843 showed up on Sunday to see WVU clinch the series.
While Power Park holds 4,500 there is clearly standing room for another 800-1,000 fans inside, as the walkways above the seats are spacious and provide an excellent view of the field. The Power pulled in a record crowd of 5,534 in the first game ever at the facility.
* * *
Tickets are reportedly going fast for WVU's final home series of the season this weekend. Fans are encouraged to purchase tickets in advance through the West Virginia Power Box Office to avoid long lines and ensure tickets. Single game tickets are priced at $7 for reserved seats and $5 for general admission when purchased in advance by calling 304-344-BATS (2287). Tickets are priced at $9 and $7 on game day. WVU students receive free admission to all games when they show a valid WVU ID at the Power Box Office.