Mountaineers look to stay hot vs UT

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Jackson Cramer finishes his swing and begins to wonder how far he hit the ball that wound up clearing the fence for a home run in WVU’s game Tuesday against Virginia Tech.     Photo via Dale Sparks / All-Pro Photography

West Virginia University’s baseball team has been playing better of late.

Randy Mazey’s club (24-19, 8-9) ended April on a positive note by winning its weekend series against Baylor, and then began the month of May with a tightly contested 5-4 victory over Virginia Tech Tuesday night.

The Mountaineers, who have won five of their last six games, take their current hot streak into another home weekend series, this time against Big 12 opponent Texas (21-24, 9-9).

For West Virginia, it’s the best stretch of games the team has had since late February, when the team started the season winning five of its first six games. And while WVU is hot, the Longhorns have been struggling like they have been for much of the season.

Texas has played .500 ball over its last eight games, spanning back to April 22. However, the Longhorns are just 1-3 over their last four contests, including being swept by Oklahoma St. last weekend.

Despite struggling during the middle part of the month, West Virginia managed to play to an 11-9 record during the month of April, meanwhile ­Texas registered just nine wins against nine losses during its 18 games last month.

The offense has been a consistent strength for the Mountaineers for most of the season, but it has really come on as of late, as has the pitching.

WVU’s offense has scored at least five runs nine times dating back to April 17, including each of the last seven games. During that span, the Mountaineers are averaging 7.1 runs per game. The WVU pitching staff, meanwhile, has only allowed five or more runs four times, and is giving up less than five runs per game on average, over the same 10-game stretch.

Chad Donato has pitched brilliantly each of his last two starts, throwing eight innings of shutout ball against Oklahoma and then following that up with a complete game shutout last Friday over Baylor. That performance, during which he struck out nine hitters and allowed just two hits, earned him NCBWA National Pitcher of the Week honors.

Ross Vance had a bounce-back performance his last time on the mound in Game 2 of Saturday’s double header, throwing a complete game and allowing just one run.

“Going into the season I thought (starting pitching) was going to be our strength,” Mazey told Jeff Culhane Thursday. “It wasn’t for a while but now I think it is with Chad, Ross Vance threw really well this past weekend, and along comes Michael Grove throwing really well. Our starting pitching has got to keep us in games right now. And if we do that, I think we’re going to hit enough to win those games.”

Pitching, though, has been a year-long strength for Texas, which is third in the conference in team ERA at 3.69 and opponent batting average at .253.

Leading the way for the Longhorns when it comes to pitching has been Ty Culbreth. He has an 8-3 record on the year with an ERA just under 3.00.

With 62 strikeouts so far this season Culbreth is a dangerous pitcher, but WVU hitters can take comfort in the fact that he has the highest opponent batting average of pitchers among the leaders in ERA in the Big 12.

Speaking of hitting, Darius Hill continues to pace the Mountaineers with a .337 average, good enough for eighth best in the Big 12. Fellow freshman Ivan Vera also continues to swing the bat very well, hitting at a .438 clip through 73 at bats.

Vera was one of three Mountaineers, including Donato and Jackson Cramer, who won Big 12 honors a week ago for their play, the first time in Big 12 history a single team has swept conference Player of the Week (Cramer), Pitcher of the Week (Donato), and Newcomer of the Week (Vera) honors.

In four games last week, Cramer hit for an astonishing .615 average and drove in 10 runs. He continued to swing a hot bat by going 2-for-4 with an RBI in Tuesday’s game against VT, including a home run.

Four Texas hitters – Patrick Mathis, Travis Jones, Tres Barrera, and Kacy Clemens – come into this weekend’s series with batting averages just over .300. Along with leading the team in average, Mathis leads the Longhorns in home runs (5) and RBI (29).

Barrera and Clemens are the biggest extra-base hit threats, though, as both have 13 or more doubles and four long balls.

It’s a meaningful series; not just because it’s two Big 12 teams, but because of how close they are in the standings, as only ½ game separates the two teams in the standings.

West Virginia will attempt to leap frog the Longhorns in the standings, while Texas will try to gain ground on the conference leaders.

First pitch Friday is scheduled for 6:30 p.m., with Saturday’s game scheduled to start at 4 p.m. and Sunday’s at 1 p.m. Fans can follow @U92_FMSports on Twitter for live updates, as well as listening to the games on 91.7 FM.

 

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