The Monarchs, now 9-2 on the season, shutout then-No. 10 NC State in their season opener, then picked up a second straight shutout to start the year in a 2-0 victory over Kent State. Backed by stout pitching and a solid defense, ODU has alowed more than five runs just three times this season. Picked third in Conference USA this season behind only FIU and national power Rice, Old Dominion's staff should be the best the Mountaineers have faced yet this season.
West Virginia, meanwhile, comes off a 10-game road trip to open the season. WVU finished 7-3, winning the first series and sweeping the second before managing a spit at Hawaii in a four-game set. Backed by solid starting pitching that bordered on excellent at times, the line-up was helped by production from freshmen Darius Hill, Kyle Gray, Jimmy Galusky and Cole Austin. Hill and Austin are hitting second and third in the order, and Hill has been especially prolific at the plate while hitting .311 with a team-best 14 hits and 12 runs scored. His five doubles also lead West Virginia, and the right fielder has a .578 slugging percentage. Austin, at second, has combined with shortstop Jimmy Galusky for a solid defensive combination up the middle, and of late Galusky has been finding his swing. The redshirt freshman is third on the team with a .324 average, including a couple extra base hits that scored key runs over the season-opening trip.
The pitfall is that some of the early season success could be tempered against Old Dominion's weekend starters. The Monarchs allowed an average of just 2.7 runs over the first seven games, and have more recently split a two-game series with Virginia Tech while taking two of three from Big Ten school Rutgers. This is exactly the challenge head coach Randy Mazey wanted, however, especially with the Big 12 opener looming a week from Friday against No. 8 TCU, also 9-2 on the season and the narrow pick over No. 22 Oklahoma State to win the conference title.
As Mazey noted above, the Monarchs are mid-major in name only, and have made eight NCAA Tournament appearances, including as recently as 2014. Hill, below, speaks to the difficultiesof facing that level of pitching, and what his plate approach has been early in his true freshman season. He also details the jump between the prep and major college levels of play, and how the road trip, which spanned three different cities and included an exhibition against MLB's Arizona Diamondbacks, has helped the team jell and begin to develop leadership despite playing just one senior in the field.
That lone senior, center fielder KC Huth, is hitting .333 and has a pair of homer runs and eight RBI. Huth, below, describes the difficulties of playing with such a young line-up, and how he has watched the newcomers progress over th fall and into winter conditioning and spring practice sessions. Huth noted that Hill, Austin, Galusky, Gray and others earned their spots prior to Opening Day, and have only solidified them since. Huth, whose father Ken played nine years professionally in the California Angels and St. Louis Cardinals organizations, also discusses that relationship, and what he is able to learn from that influence. First pitch Friday is at 3 p.m.