|West Virginia players celebrate Tuesday night's 14-2 victory over Maryland at Hawley Field.
|All-Pro Photography/Dale Sparks Photo
College baseball around here isn’t what it used to be, if you haven’t already noticed.
West Virginia, which hasn’t been to an NCAA regional since 1996, is in the hunt this year with a 20-16 overall record heading into tonight’s game against Marshall. The Mountaineers’ all-important RPI jumped three spots to No. 30 following last night’s impressive 14-2 victory over Maryland.
Maryland, which hasn’t played in the NCAA tournament since 1971, and once was left for dead when the school was considering dropping the sport a few years ago, is in the middle of the pack in the ACC’s Atlantic Division with a 9-11 record in league play.
The Terps, with an RPI of 22 following last night’s loss to WVU, have already gotten through the most difficult part of their conference schedule with games remaining against Notre Dame, Boston College and Pitt, giving them a good chance of finishing the regular season above .500 in league play. I’m not sure Maryland baseball has ever finished above .500 in the always-tough ACC.
“I told their coach yesterday, I bet it’s never happened the West Virginia versus Maryland game had two teams in the top 30 in the RPI,” said West Virginia coach Randy Mazey.
No, this isn’t the same West Virginia team that we were used to seeing and, no, this isn’t the same Maryland baseball team that we used to watch.
The same goes for Pitt, which played the Mountaineers twice earlier this season. The Panthers, which last made an NCAA regional in 1995 when they were still members of the Big East Conference, could also finish the regular season above .500 in ACC play with conference games left against Boston College, Maryland and Notre Dame.
Pitt (with an RPI of 113) already boasts ACC victories over North Carolina, Duke, Georgia Tech, Virginia and Clemson so far this year.
The ACC is currently considered the third-toughest baseball conference in America, one spot behind the Big 12, and two spots behind the SEC.
Clearly, the ACC is helping Pitt baseball, just as the Big 12 is transforming WVU baseball.
The new ballpark now under construction at the University Town Centre is going to give the Mountaineers another big boost, just as ballparks at Virginia and Ohio State have revived those baseball programs.
The Cavaliers, under veteran coach Brian O’Connor, have reached the College World Series twice in the last six years, most recently in 2011, and Virginia is a strong contender to return this year with a 34-7 record heading into this weekend’s three-game series with Florida State.
The history of Virginia baseball can essentially be broken down into two periods – pre-2002 and post-2002 when 4,900-seat Davenport Field was opened.
Same deal for Ohio State baseball following the construction of Bill Davis Stadium in the late 1990s. The Buckeyes, which last made a College World Series appearance in 1967, are again annual NCAA regional contenders.
A few years down the road, I think baseball people will be viewing West Virginia University baseball in a similar light ... pre-baseball stadium and post-baseball stadium.
As for the present, the Mountaineers have already played host to Ohio State, Pitt and Maryland out of conference at Hawley Field this year. Oklahoma State was here for a three-game weekend series two weeks ago, and in less than two weeks, West Virginia and Virginia Tech will be renewing their diamond rivalry in Princeton, W.Va.
Among college baseball programs within easy driving distance of Morgantown, W.Va., I count at least 15 that are ranked in the RPI top 100 this week - and West Virginia is playing a good number of them.
Throw in Kansas State coming up this weekend in conference play, and 10th-ranked Texas next weekend, and you’re looking at some terrific college baseball right here in Morgantown.
“We’re putting a better product on the field and we’re playing better people,” noted Mazey.
Still, it’s been a process getting the common fan to understand the caliber of baseball that is now being played at WVU - or the caliber of players Mazey is assembling here.
“Through our first 30 games, we’ve played one in Morgantown so the fans don’t know who our kids are,” said Mazey. “(Most fans) don’t know that Ryan McBroom
is having a great year.”
Teams that once were not willing to come to Morgantown to play games against the Mountaineers are now willing to come because, No. 1, West Virginia plays in the Big 12, No. 2, a new facility is on the horizon and, No. 3, their RPI won’t take a big hit by facing the Mountaineers.
“Kids want to play against good people, you want to coach against good people, the recruits want to see you play good people, the fans want to see good games … nobody wants to see you play teams that you are going to beat every time you play them,” admitted Mazey.
No, college baseball isn’t what it used to be around here so do yourself a favor and come on out for some great fun; get something tasty to eat; hear some good music, maybe catch a foul ball or two and take in some outstanding baseball, if not tonight against state rival Marshall, then this weekend against K-State.
I think you will really enjoy it.