ARLINGTON, TX — Wednesday was a tough day to be a Big 12 Conference baseball tri-champion.
Third-seeded West Virginia (39-17), along with fellow regular season champions top-seeded Texas and second-seeded Oklahoma State, stumbled during the topsy-turvy first day of the Big 12 Conference Baseball Tournament at Globe Life Field.
“That’s a telltale sign that you’ve got a good league,” said WVU head baseball coach Randy Mazey after the Mountaineers’ 6-2 loss to sixth-seeded Texas Tech (38-19).
The Mountaineers, ranked 21st nationally, fell to 2-2 on the season against Tech, but they could potentially meet on Friday night in the double-elimination tournament.
West Virginia was ranked sixth nationally less than two weeks ago. A sweep at Texas and Wednesday’s loss pairs two Top 25 programs in an elimination game Thursday.
WVU will face Oklahoma State (37-17), ranked 18th nationally, at 12:30 p.m. Central Standard Time today. WVU’s regular season resume objectively means an NCAA Tournament bid is all but a lock, but Mazey — the Big 12 Conference Baseball Coach of the Year — isn’t taking anything for granted.
“I feel like we can’t assume we’re in the NCAA Tournament,” Mazey said. “I thought that last year (after we went 33-22) when I sat here, and it didn’t happen.”
A loss to the Cowboys this afternoon could seriously jeopardize any chance of bringing a regional to Morgantown. The Cowboys lost their Big 12 Tournament Opener, 9-5, to seventh-seeded Oklahoma, on Wednesday night.
“We’ll find out what kind of team we have against OSU,” Mazey said. “We have our backs against the wall and so do they. I expect it to be a pretty good game.”
The Mountaineers, who were swept last weekend in the final regular-season series at Texas, couldn’t find a rhythm against Tech starting pitcher Mason Molina and an overwhelmingly pro-Red Raider crowd.
Redshirt freshman pitcher David Hagaman, an Honorable Mention All-Big 12 reliever, made his first career start and struggled in four innings against Tech. Despite seven strikeouts, he allowed four runs on six hits.
Mazey said he was “encouraged” by Hagaman, especially his slider. The WVU pitching staff walked six Red Raiders, which frequently became runs.
“He could potentially start in another game in the postseason,” said Mazey, assuming WVU makes the NCAA Tournament.
Tech erupted for 11 hits, with seven players connecting on at least one hit.
Sophomore catcher Hudson White led the way, going 3-for-3 with an RBI. Sophomore first baseman Gavin Kash and junior second baseman Austin Green both connected on solo home runs for Tech.
Big 12 Player of the Year JJ Wetherholt, the man from Mars (Pennsylvania), came back to Earth against Tech, as the sophomore second baseman went 0-for-4.
Redshirt senior outfielder Caleb McNeely, 2-for-4, put the Mountaineers on the scoreboard with a solo home run in the fourth inning. He’s now tied with sophomore first baseman Grant Hussey for second on the team in home runs this season with 13 each. Freshman designated hitter Logan Sauve also went 2-for-3.
Graduate shortstop Tevin Tucker hit a sacrifice fly that scored McNeely in the bottom of the seventh inning.
The four-game losing streak is the longest of the season for a Mountaineer team that hadn’t dropped three consecutive games in 2023 until last Sunday in Austin.
WVU’s Big 12 tournament struggles continued, with its fifth consecutive tournament loss dating back to 2021. They fell to 0-3 at Globe Life Field, home of MLB’s American League West-leading Texas Rangers, and the conference tournament host venue since last season.
WVU won two-of-three games against OSU, May 5-7, in Morgantown. The teams will meet in the Big 12 Tournament for the second time in three years. The Cowboys defeated the Mountaineers, 12-2, on May 28, 2021, in Oklahoma City.
BY MICHAEL SUDHALTER