By Ryan Decker
Tuesday night, West Virginia (26-17, 10-8) routed Eastern Michigan (18-27) by a final of 17-1 in an out-of-conference game that possibly couldn’t have come at a better time.
There are the obvious benefits of a blowout victory, such as head coach Randy Mazey being able to take most of his starting position players out of the game to get other players live-game reps. There are also the mental benefits of an offense and a team watching 17 runs go up on the scoreboard, which is the most runs ever scored by a college team in Monongalia County Ballpark history.
More importantly, though, the high-powered day at the plate might’ve jump-started a WVU offense that had been cooling off as of late, heading into arguably the most important series of the season when No. 4 Texas Tech (36-12, 11-7) travels to Morgantown this weekend.
“Confidence is everything in terms of hitting,” Mazey said on the 91.7 FM post-game show. “It’s nice to know that Jackson Cramer is coming off a nice hit, a lot of guys that may not have been swinging it well are now going to go in with confidence. I think that’ll give us a big boost.”
Entering Tuesday night, WVU’s offense had been cooling off, having only scored over its season average once in its past six games.
Players like Brandon White and Jackson Cramer saw their averages drop slightly, while the Mountaineers were just 3-4 in their last seven games.
Tuesday night potentially changed momentum.
Cramer reached base in each of his three plate appearances, driving in three runs. He was one of six Mountaineer hitters to have multi-RBI performances, one of eight WVU players to reach base at least twice.
Kyle Davis extended his hitting streak to 12 games, and both Davis (13) and Kyle Gray (14) extended reached-base streaks. Gray continues to stay hot at the plate, as his average has risen over 100 points since the start of last month.
Reserve players like Kevin Brophy and Andrew Zitel made contributions off the bench. Brophy went 3-for-3 at the plate with a pair of RBI. Zitel reached base all three times at the plate, and collected his first hit of the year on a single in the eighth.
Both also showed their ability in the field.
It also marked the fifth time this year that Mountaineer hitting attack has produced 10 or more runs in a game.
“To be honest with you, I like our offense so much that I expect them to hit like that every game,” Mazey said. “I’ve set the bar way too high for what’s realistic for this team, but that was fun to see.”
It wasn’t just the offense that benefited, though, from the outbreak.
Having the game well in hand early on gave Mazey and pitching coach Derek Matlock the ability to put pitchers on the mound that haven’t pitched a lot this year.
West Virginia-native Shane Ennis made just his third appearance of the season, pitching three hitless innings. Three more pitchers who have all been limited this season also saw time on the mound.
“That game couldn’t have gone any better from a pitching standpoint with Shane (Ennis) going three innings; Tanner Campbell hasn’t pitched in a while and he looked pretty good; Carter Camp hasn’t pitched in forever and we got him about 15 game-speed pitches to get him back on track. That worked out about as good as it could’ve.” — Randy Mazey on WVU’s pitching performance Tuesday
Looking past just what those pitchers did for themselves – getting on the mound and performing well – their outings had other benefits, too.
Along with starter Sam Kessler, the five pitchers Mazey deployed Tuesday night saved some of the more-used arms like Jackson Sigman and Braden Zarbnisky from having to be used in a game that was out of hand.
Furthermore, if Ennis and company are able to continue to give the WVU coaching staff a few innings here or there during the final month of the season, they could prove to be key pieces in the postseason when the team is playing almost every day.
“You can’t get through a conference tournament with out going 10 pitchers deep,” Mazey said. “You’ve got to play four or five games in four or five days, so it’s really nice to know that those guys can come in there and get outs.”
At least some of the currently potential benefits will be seen or proven this weekend against the fourth-ranked team in the county.
Texas Tech is coming off a dominant weekend series win over TCU, and have won seven of its last 11 games.
“That’s one of the best college baseball teams out there; one of the best offensive teams,” said Mazey. “We’re going to have to do the same thing: carry that consistent effort that we’ve been giving into that weekend, not worry too much about the results but worry about the effort, and the results will be what they are.”
Action between the Mountaineers and visiting Red Raiders gets underway Friday night at 6:30 p.m. BJ Myers is the scheduled starter for WVU.
You can listen to the three-game series live as it happens on 91.7 FM in the Morgantown area, or on u92.wvu.edu.