By Ryan Decker, Originally written for West Virginia Illustrated
The Mountaineers are currently riding a three-game winning streak, and are coming off a 2-0 win Tuesday over Pitt.
WVU travels to Austin knowing that a good weekend in Texas would be very beneficial when it comes to the Big 12 standings.
“There’s no way to overemphasize the importance of what we’re facing this weekend,” WVU head coach Randy Mazey said following Tuesday’s win. “Our kids, every time there’s a challenge, they step up.”
The Mountaineers are currently in a three-way tie for forth in the Big 12 Conference with Baylor and Kansas, and sit just one game behind Oklahoma for third place.
If the Mountaineers want to improve their draw for next week’s Big 12 Championship tournament, a series win against the Longhorns would go a long way.
West Virginia is led at the plate by Kyle Davis, who’s hot second-half of the year has made him one of the best hitters in the Big 12.
Davis’ .328 batting average paces the Mountaineers, as do his team-leading 63 hits, 12 doubles and 40 runs batted in. The junior left fielder is also the only player to have started every game this season.
Davis is joined by Ivan Gonzalez (.318) and Cole Austin (.308) as the only three hitters on the team with a batting average above .300. Austin has missed each of the last three games with an upper body injury that he suffered prior to Saturday’s game against Gardner-Webb.
Mazey said that Austin is considered day-to-day, and that the team, “won’t play him until he’s ready.”
Freshman Brandon White’s struggles that began late last month have continued.
The centerfielder has just three hits in his last 36 at bats, and has only managed to collect two hits in the month of May.
The Longhorns as a team have been struggling as of late, losing three of their last four games, and also dropping three of their previous five Big 12 series.
Texas, managed by David Pierce in his first season as head coach of the Longhorns, are just 2-3 in the month of May after a successful April, meaning the Mountaineers could be catching them at the right time.
Kacy Clemens, son of former MLB pitcher Roger Clemens, leads the Texas hitting attack. He paces the team with a .307 average, while also being the Longhorn leader in hits (54), home runs (8), runs scored (38) and RBI (38).
Austin Todd joins him as the only .300 hitters on the club.
Mountaineer starting pitcher BJ Myers (4-2, 3.90 ERA) will square off against right-hander Nolan Kingham (7-4, 2.90) on the mound in the series opener Friday. WVU will send freshman righty Alek Manoah (1-1, 2.70) to the mound, while Morgan Cooper (6-2, 2.27) earns the start for UT.
The homestanding Longhorns will put the ball in the hand of Kyle Johnson (2-1, 3.24) for the season finale. WVU’s starter has not been determined.
First pitch on Friday is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. ET. Saturday’s game is scheduled to begin at 5 p.m. ET, with the season finale on Sunday starting at 2 p.m. ET.
History vs. the Longhorns
Since joining the Big 12, West Virginia is 8-4 against Texas. The Mountaineers have won both home series, but have split the two trips to Austin, winning three and losing three games.
WVU has outscored Texas by 14 in the twelve contests, including scoring double-digit runs in two of the three games against the Longhorns in Morgantown last year.
We’ve always played pretty well against Texas, here and there,” said Mazey “We’ve got a lot of Texas kids, and they get excited to play against the Longhorns.”
Starting pitcher Michael Grove, who has been out since sustaining an arm injury on April 22, will not pitch this weekend. Initial reports following the injury diagnosis last month marked the Texas series as his potential return.
Though, when asked about the situation after the game on Tuesday, Mazey made it clear the team would not rush him back.
“(Grove)’s got a chance to have a great career, so we’re not going to jeopardize any of that for him to pitch before he’s ready,” said Mazey. “If he gets ready before the season ends, then he’ll pitch. If not, then we’ll start focusing on next season for him.”
The trip to Austin will be a bit of a homecoming trip for two Mountaineers. Gonzalez, a native of Round Rock, and Kyle Gray, a Blanco-native, will both be within an hour of the Longhorn campus.
Big 12 Positioning
WVU is in a three-way tie for fourth place in the Big 12 Standings.
Baylor host Kansas State this weekend, while Kansas is on the road against Texas Tech.
Oklahoma, who is in third place in the conference, hosts Oklahoma State.