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WVU baseball defying the odds

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Back in late January, Matt Frazer bent his long body into a rather undersized chair in a classroom at the WVU Coliseum and set about answering questions.

The occasion was what amounted to the West Virginia baseball team's media day, although without quite the production one might have hoped. This wasn't exactly Super Bowl media day with tables and names on placards or even uniforms. Shoot, it wasn't even a dedicated event, but rather held an hour or so before a Mountaineer basketball game.

Hey, if you want the media to pay attention to baseball, it's probably best to grab them when they're gathered for something else, right? Ditto fans. You grab them when you can. Just get them to the right place and try to divert their attention.

Anyway, it was with that backdrop that Frazer, WVU's big junior first baseman from Nitro, answered the requisite questions about low expectations. They were everywhere at the time, of course, what with the Mountaineers moving to a new conference with a new coach and without a real home field. No one was expecting much, but Frazer and his teammates, of course, sounded enthusiastic.

"Every odd is against us,'' Frazer said. "And that's great for us. That just gives us a chance to prove everybody wrong and show that we can do it.''

At the time, you had to just shrug off such statements as cockeyed optimism. Shoot, I didn't even print it. Why? How many times have I heard the same from overmatched athletes and teams? How many times have you?

But guess what? For once it was more than just cockeyed optimism. Three months later, West Virginia's baseball team has done things almost no one thought possible.

The Mountaineers come to Appalachian Power Park again this weekend as certainly the most surprising team in the Big 12. No, they aren't the best team in the league. That's a title generally reserved for the other team that's coming to town this weekend, No. 10 Oklahoma. But WVU is certainly the most surprising.

Think not? The team that was unanimously - unanimously, mind you - picked to finish last in the Big 12 is one game out of first place with just three weekends remaining. West Virginia is 27-19 overall and 9-6 in the Big 12. Oklahoma (33-12, 10-5) is in first place and Baylor (11-6 in league play) is second. The Mountaineers are tied with Kansas State.

But as odd as that success might seem, it's not the biggest upset regarding Mountaineer baseball this season. This is:

People care about Mountaineer baseball.

Really.

On Tuesday night, more than 2,500 fans showed up and bare bones Hawley Field for the final game of the season on campus. That the opponent was Pitt helped, of course, but remember that WVU and Pitt have played a whole bunch of times in baseball and 2,500 have never, ever shown up to watch. In fact, the crowd of 2,535 more than doubled Hawley's attendance record of 1,174.

Shoot, there have probably been seasons when West Virginia barely drew 2,500 fans.

The baseball team is hot, having won two Big 12 series in a row, including a sweep of Kansas last weekend in Beckley. A couple of innings into the Pitt game, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin sat down at a table right on the field and signed into law the bill that will help finance a new stadium.

Yes, West Virginia lost the game to Pitt - a Top 25 team the Mountaineers had beaten earlier in the season - but even that couldn't dampen the spirits of first-year coach Randy Mazey, who said he couldn't imagine there has ever been a more significant day in the history of the program.

"We've been talking all season with this team about how to overcome adversity and our travel schedule and being picked to finish last,'' Mazey said. "Then we go and sweep Kansas after a great week at Texas, so we kind of had to flip-flop it on them and teach them how to handle success. We've been successful lately and a lot of times when a team becomes successful like that they relax a little bit and lose some bad games. You still need to keep grinding and keep fighting.''

The Mountaineers did that against Pitt, battling back after falling behind 6-0 before losing by a run, and hope to do the same this weekend against Oklahoma. The teams will play three games this weekend, at 6:30 p.m. today, 4 p.m. Saturday and noon on Sunday.

The Sooners feature some of the best players in the country. Junior pitcher Jonathan Gray will be one of the first players taken in the June draft and Matt Oberste is among the top 10 hitters in the country.

Then again, Gray hasn't pitched any better than WVU sophomore Harrison Musgrave, who has been the Big 12's pitcher of the week the last two weeks.

"I don't think there's any question about it,'' Mazey said when asked if OU might be the best team WVU will face this season. "They can really hit, they can really pitch, they can really play defense.''

But so, too, can the Mountaineers. To the surprise of almost everyone.

Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or dphickman1@aol.com or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.

 

 


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