OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. — Near the Oklahoma State dugout, they hugged and hawed, tugging on their championship T-shirts and matching ballcaps. Thanks to winning two games over seven hours, the Cowboys earned another Big 12 tournament title.
West Virginia had only a runner-up finish and a charter flight to catch.
“One of these years we’ll win this thing,” coach Randy Mazey said after a 5-2 loss in Sunday’s championship game.
Technically, 23 years have elapsed since West Virginia’s baseball program last won a conference tournament. It’s the kind of drought that stands out in a media guide but ignores the fact this week represented a successful sojourn to Brickyard Ballpark.
West Virginia is hosting an NCAA baseball regional — chant that three times while plucking the weeds at Hawley Field. And West Virginia would not be hosting a regional had it not won three games in OKC. Two of those came against top-seeded Texas Tech.
Capping the event by beating Oklahoma State would’ve been a prideful moment. But the heavy lifting with regards to postseason had already been accomplished, even if the week’s mission of winning a title hadn’t.
As the Mountaineers left for the airport about two hours before the 16 campus sites were revealed, Mazey spoke resolutely about his club’s NCAA probability:
“If we’re not playing in Morgantown next weekend, you might as well lock me in a rubber room somewhere. We’ve more than earned it. We deserve it.”
The selection committee realized this to be true. The Mountaineers were in mid-air when the good news officially broke.
Now Morgantown finds itself grouped with the likes of Corvalis and Baton Rouge, Stanford and Starkville. Such elevation wasn’t realistic when Mazey came aboard in the summer of 2012.
“For us to be even talking about this — to be on the same caliber as teams like Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and TCU — no one in the world would ever have saw this coming seven years ago,” he said.
So Sunday marked a breakthrough day for West Virginia baseball, even if on the field it didn’t play its best baseball.
Facing no less of an OSU home crowd that they did at Stilllwater in April — when the Mountaineers won two of three — there were failed rallies and stranded runners. In one decisive stretch of fifth-inning wildness, two West Virginia pitchers must have felt like they were aiming for a plate that was seven inches wide, not 17.
Some WVU fans took to Twitter with such fatalistic fervor you would’ve sworn RichRod was calling running plays against Pitt instead of Mazey calling curveballs against OSU.
Chill, dear tweeters. Comprehend the context. Your team is elite.
Photos of the Mountaineers mobbing on the mound would’ve made for sweet memories. Mostly, though, it would’ve been icing.
This week in Bricktown, West Virginia baseball got what it needed, even if it didn’t quite get everything it wanted.