Depth Key To West Virginia's Wins in Big 12 Baseball Championship

West Virginia head basketball coach Bob Huggins was fond of noting that this past year's team might not have the best starting five in the Big 12, but that it might have the best ten. Baseball head coach Randy Mazey has built his team the same way, and the result is contributions up and down the roster that have pushed the Mountaineers out to a 2-0 start in the Big 12 Baseball Championship.

Taken just by themselves, the relief performances turned in by Ross Vance and B.J. Myers, who came on after just five combined outs from injured starters Michael Grove and Chad Donato, would support the contention of WVU's superior depth. The two relievers, both called on unexpectedly, performed at levels that WVU middle and long relievers haven't achieved in quite some time. Certainly their experience as starting pitchers helped them face the extended innings they pitched, but without them, the Mountaineers almost assuredly wouldn't be sitting at 2-0 and with the upper hand in Division I of the championship.

Even more importantly, WVU has had the best pitching by far through the first two days. The Mountaineers, led by Vance's 8.2 scoreless innings, have allowed just four runs. No other team has allowed fewer than ten. And while control was a bit of an issue in Thursday's win, which allowed Tech to climb back into the game on a couple of occasions, WVU simply isn't letting a lot of people on base. Oklahoma and Texas combined for just eight hits on Wednesday and Thursday -- the next lowest total is the Sooners' 16. Again, Vance was key in helping to build this stat, yielding only one hit in his 8.1 innings, but that's been the story from Myers and Blake Smith too. WVU's team ERA is 2.00, and foes are hitting just .145 against it. In a tournament where six teams are hitting .297 or better, and five are at .317 and above, those are monstrous numbers. 

It's not just pitching, though, that has propelled Randy Mazey's squad to those two wins -- and to many more in the stretch that includes 16 wins in the last 19 games. While some hitters have been consistent throughout, there have been contributions up and down the lineup. And while everyone's not hitting .300 or mashing home runs, there's simply not a batting hole in the lineup.

Take, for instance, Thursday's 9-4 win over Texas Tech. Seven of West Virginia's nine starters in the batting order had hits, and every one of those scored at least one run. And it wasn't top-loaded either. The bottom three -- K.C. HuthKyle Gray and Jimmy Galusky, combined for four hits and a walk, and scored four runs. (Huth, by the way, is hitting .600 in the two games and has a 1.200 slugging percentage.) That complemented the top of the order, where Kyle Davis, who leads the tournament with seven RBI, and Jackson Cramer, who smashed a two-run homer, provided big hits.

"We might not have the most talent up and down the roster like some of the other teams, but we’re as deep as any team in the league," Davis said after the Tech win. "Every guy is so consistent and so hard working that sometimes that beats talent. I think it speaks volumes to BJ’s [Myers] character and Ross’ [Vance] character to be able to be called on in a win like that and be able to go out and start like they knew they were starting three days in advance. That is what we are about. It is all coming together right now and I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else than right here right now.”

Add in the third element -- defense -- and WVU is coming up on top too. Although the Mountaineers, like most other teams, have battled the strong and tricky wind currents that swirl around Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark, they have, for the most part, been excellent in the field. From cutting down runs at the plate to throwing out potential basestealers, West Virginia has made big throws. It has also made highlight reel catches, including back-to-back diving, sliding grabs by Huth and Gray that turned a potential four- or five-run Tech sixth inning into just a two-run rally. Those pivotal grabs kept WVU in the lead and set the stage for six runs in the Mountaineers' next two at-bats.

Put that all together, and West Virginia finds itself at the top of the fielding standings in the championship as well. WVU has committed just one error, not allowed a stolen base and turned a double play while compiling a .987 fielding percentage. That, by any definition, is winning baseball.

"They’re a lot of fun to be around. They work hard. They are loose," Mazey said. "They love each other. We have a great relationship between the players and the coaches. They all root for each other. As you know, some of the older guys who aren’t in the lineup now are cheering for the freshmen. Everybody knows they can be called on at any time to come in and help win a game. This is the epitome of what coaching is all about. I don’t want this season to end because I don’t want to stop coaching this group.”

If WVU continues to get the across the board performances like the ones it has received so far, that stop won't happen this week.


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