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Stakes not small for WVU, Herd

By Dave Hickman, Staff writer

West Virginia and Marshall both have something to play for as they head into the final weeks of their baseball regular seasons.

Tonight’s scheduled 6 p.m. game between the two at Appalachian Power Park isn’t necessarily crucial for either one, but for a variety of different reasons it’s still important.

“Oh, absolutely,’’ Marshall coach Jeff Waggoner said Tuesday of the second game between the teams in a week. “Obviously the conference games for both of us are more important, but you’d like to get a win and get going into the weekend series.’’

Marshall (18-24, 8-12 Conference USA) lost a 10-3 decision to West Virginia (24-16, 7-7 Big 12) last Wednesday in Morgantown and then dropped three over the weekend at Alabama-Birmingham, so carries a four-game losing streak into tonight’s game.

West Virginia’s recent streak is just the opposite. After a three-game sweep of Kansas State, the Mountaineers have won six in a row and eight of the last nine. Despite not being ranked in any major poll and with just a break-even record in league play, WVU is now No. 27 in baseball’s Rating Percentage Index.

Because of that, the Mountaineers are fighting to stay highly ranked in the RPI and potentially earn an at-large NCAA tournament berth regardless of what happens in the Big 12 tournament at the end of the year. That, among other things, is why tonight’s game with Marshall is important. At this point, they all are.

“Yeah, it is [important],’’ second-year West Virginia coach Randy Mazey said. “We’re swinging the bats pretty well right now and when you’re doing that you don’t want to take too much time off.’’

Had the schedule worked out the way it was supposed to, the Mountaineers would have had far too much time off this week. WVU originally didn’t have a game scheduled between the series with Kansas State and this weekend’s with Texas, but when WVU and MU were rained out in Charleston earlier this season the game was moved to this spot.

“It couldn’t come at a better time for keeping our hitters in the grove of seeing live pitching before we play Texas,’’ Mazey said

The series with Texas beginning Friday — the final three games scheduled at soon-to-be-replaced Hawley Field — is certainly WVU’s main priority. The Mountaineers have three Big 12 series remaining, all against teams tied or ahead of them in the league standings, and the final two are on the road at Kansas and Texas Tech. They also have midweek games against Virginia Tech in Princeton next Tuesday and at Maryland the following Tuesday.

Marshall is in a similar situation in that the Herd has three conference series remaining, but two of the three are at Power Park -- this weekend against Louisiana Tech and next weekend with Old Dominion. Marshall then closes the regular season at Middle Tennessee.

In those final three series, the Herd will fight for inclusion in the C-USA tournament in Hattiesburg, Miss. Only the top eight teams in the 13-team league make the event and MU is now 10th, 2 1/2 games out of eighth.

The good news is that while the final three series aren’t against pushovers, they also aren’t against C-USA powerhouses like Rice. Louisiana Tech has the league’s worst record (13-27, 4-17) and Old Dominion (26-18, 13-11) and Middle Tennessee (22-22, 11-10) are both near .500 in the league, which means they are still fighting for tournament spots themselves.

“We’re probably in a situation where we have to win three series to make it into the tournament,’’ Waggoner said. “But that’s fine. The fact is, if you can’t win some games down the stretch you probably don’t deserve to be in the tournament anyway.’’

Marshall, which canceled a scheduled game Tuesday in Huntington against Eastern Kentucky because of weather, will start freshman lefthander Roscoe Blackburn (1-1, 5.31 earned run average) on the mound tonight. It is Blackburn’s 11th appearance and fifth start.

West Virginia will send junior righthander Zach Bargeron (2-3, 5.54 ERA). This would be his 14th appearance, three as a starter.

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


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