WVU’s ‘roller-coaster’ season culminates with Big 12 tournament

MORGANTOWN — If the WVU baseball team were able to put it together and make a run at the Big 12 tournament championship game, it wouldn’t surprise Braden Zarbnisky a bit.

Braden Zarbnisky

If the Mountaineers fell apart and were eliminated on the second day, that may not be much of a surprise either.

“This season has been a roller-coaster,” the WVU outfielder-pitcher said. “You’ve got to go out every single day and give it your all. There are going to be days where you don’t have it and you get beat. There are days when we have it and beat someone pretty good.”

Any hopes of the Mountaineers (27-25) qualifying for a second consecutive NCAA tournament rely on WVU likely needing to win the Big 12 tournament that begins Wednesday, in Oklahoma City.

WVU, the No. 7 seed in the tournament, will face No. 2-seeded Oklahoma State (29-22-1), which has lost seven of its last eight games, but made its own surprising run last season in winning the Big 12 tournament.

First pitch is scheduled for 5 p.m., at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark.

“We’ve got to go out and play like there is nothing to lose,” Zarbnisky said. “If we win, we’ve got to come out the next day and keep attacking. We can’t let up.”

This is not the position the Mountaineers projected to be in back February.

With the bulk of its roster returning from last season’s NCAA tournament team, the Mountaineers felt they were in a good position to sew up an at-large bid much earlier.

“It’s been weird,” WVU starting pitcher BJ Myers said. “We went from playing in a regional final last year to not playing well out of the gate this year. We were below .500 for a while.

“A lot of the times, we beat ourselves. We make mistakes on the mound with a lot of walks.”

The Mountaineers have had a lot of things go right, including a series win against Texas, the top seed in the Big 12, as well as pitching a shutout against Texas Tech in one game, scoring 21 runs in a win on the road against Kansas and beating a talented Baylor team, 2-1, in the first game of a three-game series last week to end the regular season.

There have also been some setbacks, including getting swept by Oklahoma, losing the series to Kansas — the No. 8 seed in the conference tourney — and not being able to close out a sweep against Kansas State, which finished ninth in the Big 12 and didn’t qualify for the league tournament.

Put it all together and the Mountaineers can play up to its level of competition, as well as play down.

“I think on any given night we can beat anyone we want,” Myers said. “It’s a matter of us saying, ‘OK, let’s do this.’ I think it’s about consistency and having the same mind set every game.”

It begins against the Cowboys, who took two-out-three games against WVU, at Monongalia County Ballpark last month.

WVU had opportunities in all three games and won the second game, 10-7, that saw first baseman Marques Inman homer and drive in four, while third baseman Tyler Doanes added three RBIs.

Oklahoma State is projected to start junior Joe Lienhard (5-2, 5.43 ERA), who allowed six hits and four runs over four innings in his only start against the Mountaineers this season.

WVU could start either Myers or sophomore Alek Monoah, but both will likely pitch against the Cowboys.

WVU head coach Randy Mazey has instituted a new pitching strategy that limits how many innings his pitchers throw each game, allowing more pitchers to be available in each game.

The strategy calls for the starting pitcher to go no more than three innings before a host of relievers are called upon in the later innings.

“It’s like we have a starter and four closers,” Myers said. “We might be on to something. It’s been interesting.”

Mazey said he expected the Mountaineers to perform well.

“We’ve always played well in Oklahoma City. I don’t see any reason why we wouldn’t do the same thing again. We’ve jut got to take all the days that we played well during the [regular season] and try to roll them together and win four or five in a row.”

The entire big 12 tournament can be viewed on Fox College Sports (Comcast 172, DirecTV 608, Dish Network 446.

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