Plan A for West Virginia, at the start of the season, was an experienced weekend starting rotation of Chad Donato, Ross Vance and B.J. Myers. That held for much of the year, but as May unfolded the back end of that rotation faltered a bit. Combined with the emergence of newcomers such as Michael Grove and the development of Conner Dotson, Mazey moved the latter two of the trio to the bullpen as part of his Plan B, which set WVU up for the final stretch run and the Big 12 Championship.
The second plan held for just part of one inning, however, as Grove, who had dominated Oklahoma in an earlier extended relief appearance, injured his knee attempting to field a bunt. On came Vance, to shut down the Sooners with 8.2 innings of shutout baseball in which he faced just three batters over the minimum. Vance's performance was a relief stint in name only, however, as he pitched a sterling game in what was in all respects a starting job. That Plan C (or perhaps more correctly Plan A-1), put WVU's pitching rotation back on the rotisserie for discussion as the Mountaineers head into their second game of the tournament this evening against Texas Tech.
As our Matt Keller pointed out during the game, Grove's injury might actually work out in West Virginia's favor. Obviously, no one wants to see a player get hurt, but if Grove's knee issue isn't a major one, that could make him available for action on Friday or Saturday, and perhaps give the Mountaineers an advantage over a foe that might be down to its number three or four starter. Vance's showing does likely rule him out for at least a couple of days, but he will also likely be available for a couple of innings over the weekend, when his array of dancing breaking balls could serve as the counter to the heat of Grove and reliever Blake Smith. That may well have been in play in Wednesday's game, as the Sooners, no doubt motivated by Grove's earlier throttling, were prepared to face a power pitcher. Instead, they were baffled by Vance's deliveries -- and this just a month after they touched him for six hits and four runs in 5.1 innings. How much the mental aspect of the quick switch came into play is open for debate, but it also speaks to Vance's ability to put the earlier appearance behind him while adjusting to the quick call for his services.
"Coach [Derek] Matlock said, ‘Vance, Vance, get up and get ready Vance,’ and he sent him to the bullpen," head coach Randy Mazey noted. "He was the obvious choice because of his mentality and the fact that he had started games before and thrown complete games before. That is the sign of a good team. You guys haven’t followed us all year like other people have, but there has been other times where we have had multiple guys; one game we brought seven guys off the bench for a comeback win. The sign of a good team is the guys whose name isn’t in the starting lineup are good players too. I’ve never coached a team, like this one, where I have the ultimate faith in every guy that is in this uniform. That is a really good feeling as a coach to know that everyone can contribute to a win.”
Contribute he did, although he admitted to feeling a bit like a fish out of water when the call came.
"I was a little confused on what to do," Vance said of his earliest-ever relief call. "That is actually the first time I had to come in off an injury. So, I was a little lost out there on what to do.”
WVU now faces Texas Tech on Thursday evening at 5:00 p.m. ET, hoping to even its season record against the Red Raiders. The Mountaineers played excellent baseball in last weekend's three-game set, but were rewarded with just one win. A victory would give the Mountaineers Friday off, while a loss would put them in a Friday 4:15 ET contest.
Wednesday's 6-0 victory by the Mountaineers marked the first time that a West Virginia team has shut out an opponent in Big 12 Championship play. Prior to Wednesday's game, the Mountaineers had not allowed fewer than three runs in a championship game.