Kevin Kinder \

West Virginia 2016 Baseball: A Team To Be Celebrated

The game was over -- at least in the view of most everyone watching or listening to the first two innings of the Big 12 Baseball Championship final.

As those first two frames unfolded, TCU, as it did throughout the week, smacked the ball all over the lot, piling up an 8-0 lead. But as it has done throughout the final month of the season, West Virginia didn't quit. Storming back from that deficit, the Mountaineers took the lead before giving up a pair of runs in the last two innings in a crushing 11-10 loss.

Unfortunately, the Mountaineers' comeback won't get much notice. It didn't result in a win, and it didn't get them into the NCAA tournament. In a world where finishing second is immediately deemed "irrelevant" by Internet shouters, WVU's gritty rally -- one of several that it has generated as it made a late push for postseason play -- won't get the notice it deserves. I'm here to fix that. The 2016 version of the WVU baseball team was one that every Mountaineer fan should have taken to heart, because it had every quality that West Virginians and alums value.  

First, the players didn't fight among themselves. There was no discord, even though freshmen came in and took playing time from upperclassmen. And when those older players, relegated to pinchhitting and backup roles, were called upon, they often produced.

Second, there wasn't any quit in the team. That happens more in today's athletics world than one might think, and this team had the chance to do so after a mid-season stretch of disappointing losses put them in triple digits in the RPI. It could have done so after trailing William & Mary 7-0 with just three at-bats left. And it certainly could have called it a day on Sunday and been happy with its showing in Oklahoma City. Instead, it fought back -- just as it has done all year.

Third, it wasn't a team dominated by stars. Of course, there were standouts, in both the field and on the mound, but the real story of this team was that it got contributions from just about everyone on the roster. One day, the power hitters would smack the ball deep. The next day, the bottom of the order would manufacture runs. On another, a dominating pitching performance would unfold. Defensive gems would prove the difference in another.

Fourth, this wasn't a perfect team by any means. That may sound odd, at least in terms of something to like about a team, but there's something about a squad that has flaws, yet battles like crazy to overcome them, that appeals to many. That "against-the-odds" mentality is one that is built-in for many West Virginia fans, and no team exhibited that more than this year's baseball  team.

This shouldn't be construed as some sort of participation trophy for the Mountaineers, though. They would be the first to say that they came up short in their goal of bringing home the trophy from OKC. There's no siuggestion in this that WVU should be 100% happy with the outcome of the season, or that it doesn't aspire to winning titles. However, that doesn't mean that their achievements should be shortchanged, either. It's all too easy to say "they lost" and have that sum up an entire season. It's also dead wrong.

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Four Mountaineers made the Big-12 Championship All-Tournament Team:

Kyle Davis hit .476 for the week and set a new tournament record with 14 RBI. Seven of his ten hits went for extra bases.

K.C. Huth hit .462 in WVU's four games, and was also stellar defensively, showcasing slidking catches and excellent range in centerfield.

Conner Dotson's Saturday shutdown of Oklahoma landed him a spot, as he held the Sooners to a .174 batting average while giving up just one unearned run over 6.1 innings. He struck out nine to help the Mountaineers roll to the final.

Ross Vance was likewise outstanding on the mound. In two long relief appearances, the senior had a 1.80 ERAin 15 innings -- more than double of any of the other top ten pitchers in the tournament. He gave up just three earned runs while striking out 19, and held foes to a .208 batting average.

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