Reversal of Form

The WVU baseball team has typically been a high-powered offensive machine that scores runs in bunches, but sometimes struggles to find consistent pitching. In its 2-1 start to the season, however, the Mountaineers were just the opposite.

As is the case for many collegiate teams, pitching was a big question mark for West Virginia as it entered the season. With top prep talent typically bypassing college baseball to go right to the pros, it is a battle to put together quality depth on the mound. Through the first three games, however, WVU showed that it has the potential to field a quality staff in 2007.

Starters Matt Yurish, Kenny Durst and Levi Maxwell all had very good outings in the opening series against Cleveland State, combining for to allow just three earned runs in 18 2/3 innings of work. The trio struck out 15 batters while walking seven, and showed good poise in working out of the few jams they faced.

Reliever Billy Gross has been nearly perfect, allowing just one hit and nothing else in 2.1 innings of work, while Eric Saffell has yielded just one earned run in four innings while earning a save.

Overall, the pitching staff sports an outstanding ERA of 2.00 and its WHIP (walks plus hits per innings pitched) is a very good 1.15. If the Mountaineers can keep its numbers anywhere near those levels for the remainder of the season, it will definitely be in the hunt for postseason play.

West Virginia's bats, on the other hand, were apparently stored outside in the deep freeze that covered much of the Mountain State in February, and didn't thaw out on the first southern road trip. The normally thundering Mountaineer metal was quiet except for a couple of one-inning uprisings against Cleveland State, although there was enough offensive production to score two wins. Justin Jenkins lead the team with a 5-11 series, leaving him with a .455 average, but only Adam White (.308) joined him about the .300 mark. WVU hit just .223 as a team in the opening three games, and although one-third of its 21 hits were doubles, there were no other extra base hits to be had. Jenkins' had two of those doubles, which helped produce an OPS of 1.136 for the team leader.

Of course, it's far too early to panic about a lack of offensive production. Hitting inside the Caperton Center, in artificial light, is a different prospect than hitting outdoors in natural sunlight, and a three game series doesn't offer enough data to make projections for an entire year. Players such as Tyler Kuhn and Austin Markel will likely up their averages appreciably in the coming games, and it won't be a surprise to see West Virginia again denting the scoreboard with regularity.

A third phase, team defense, also plays a key role. WVU had three errors in its opening series, and for the most part fielding looked solid against the Vikings. Making routine plays is a huge factor in the college game, and can bolster a still-developing pitching staff by recording outs on those balls that should not produce baserunners. That is also an area that has plagued WVU in the past, but if the defense, especially in the infield, remains solid, the Mountaineers will have a chance to get into postseason play.

The competition ramps up this weekend, as WVU faces North Carolina State and UNC-Wilmington in the Baseball at the Beach tournament at Coastal Carolina before stopping off in Virginia to play Norfolk State during the return trip home on Monday. The first two foes are perennially solid programs, and both will test West Virginia. The Wolfpack is undefeated in five games to date, while two of UNCW's four losses were to Top 30 foes Oklahoma and South Carolina.


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