WVU Sports with Mike Casazza

Final: WVU 11, Baylor 1 (8 innings)

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Slaughter rule! The only thing that went wrong here was West Virginia didn’t finish this game after seven innings and Isaiah Kerns had to throw six more pitches in the top of the eighth. That’s it. Everything else was sublime.

WVU is absolutely in the NCAA tournament now, right? Baylor was No. 19 in this morning’s RPI, a spot above WVU, and the Mountaineers are now 7-6 against the teams above or even with them in the regular-season standings, and the Big 12 is the RPI’s most-revered league. We hadn’t really pored over this, because the body of work seemed good enough, but WVU went 4-8 in Big 12 play at the end of the season and followed four conference series wins with four conference series losses.

But that’s no longer a concern. With a whole lot of swagger, its best starter ready to roll and every other arm available to help, the team moves on to play the winner of No. 1 seed Texas Tech v. No. 8 seed Oklahoma State at 5 p.m. (or so) tomorrow.

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First pitch in the first game of the quite likely competitive and unpredictable Big 12 tournament is at 10 a.m. when No. 4 seed West Virginia takes on No. 5 seed Baylor. Both teams finished 12-12 in the regular season, and both teams were percolating before dropping two games in the final regular-season series. The Mountaineers earned fourth place and the No. 4 seed, which comes with the last at-bat that’s been a big deal for WVU all season, by winning two of three games against the Bears at the beginning of conference play.

Baylor’s pretty good, boasting the Big 12’s second-best team batting average and fourth-best team ERA as well as first-team all-conference players to prop up those rankings. The Mountaineers aren’t bad, though, and they rank third in batting average and ERA and had four players make the first or second team.

Freshman Isaiah Kerns will start for WVU today and top starter B.J. Myers will throw tomorrow, and this almost runs counter to manager Randy Mazey’s “win this game, no matter what” tournament philosophy. Myers could be pitching in an elimination game tomorrow instead of keeping his team out of one today, but there’s an explanation.

“If we didn’t feel good about playing next weekend, we’d attack this weekend another way,” Mazey said. “We feel good about playing next weekend, so that takes the pressure off this weekend.”

Next weekend is the beginning of the NCAA tournament and regional play, and starting Myers on Thursday ensures he’ll have a normal amount of rest, as opposed to too many days off before the regionals begin. The Mountaineers haven’t been to a regional since 1996, but Mazey believes his team will be invited during the selection show Monday — if they don’t earn the automatic bid that comes with winning the conference tournament.

“I feel pretty good about where we’re sitting right now,” he said. “You don’t ever know for sure, but we’re in the best conference in the country and we finished fourth. If you look around at all the other conferences — the Power 5 conferences — and at all the other teams that finished fourth in those leagues, you’d feel pretty good about those guys getting in.

“I think if you look at it objectively, you’ve got to like where we’re at right now. I don’t ever count on it until I see our name come off the board. I’ve been in that position when I’ve gathered a team for the selection show and you never hear your name, so I’ll believe it when I see it. But as we sit here right now, you have to feel good about where we’re at.”

What do you say we find out? The game is on Fox College Sports. You can watch live online here. You can listen live here. You can follow live stats here.

Problem solved

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Elijah Macon is in summer school, but he’ll be done in two weeks and will pursue professional playing opportunities after that.

Or not?

Macon announced his departure on Facebook:

“First things first I would like to say Thank you Bob Huggins And Erik Martin for believing in a young 15 year old boy growing up from the Southside of Columbus, OH losing my mother and still having you guys push me to be the man I have become I can do nothing but thank you for all you and Mountaineer Nation has done for me unfortunately I will not be returning for my senior season at WVU and instead sign with a agent and play professional basketball thank you guys for all the love and support!!!
#MOUNTAINEERFORLIFE”

Thirty-one minutes later, which is an adequate amount of time for people to chime in and for Macon to survey the responses, he added a second post: “FYI I HAVE NOT SIGNED WITH AN AGENT YET”

Got it. I will guarantee you nothing from here on out, but it would appear Macon is leaving and this just became a perimeter team.

 

Big 12 baseball awards

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The sophomore leads the team in hitting (but he doesn’t have enough plate appearances to qualify) and is 11-for-11 in stolen bases. He’s played the outfield and designated hitter, and he leads the team with six saves and five wins. He has a 2.67 ERA in 21 appearances, each in relief, and has 41 strikeouts in 33 2/3 innings.

There really aren’t many players who do what Braden Zarbnisky does, and he was named first-team all-conference Tuesday. He was not alone in earning and accepting honors from the conference coaches. Three teammates made the second team and seven were named honorable mention while you-know-who (!) made the all-freshman team.

 

We learned yesterday what we suspected to be the eventual outcome: Jevon Carter, the national defensive player of the year, will be back with West Virginia’s men’s basketball team in the 2017-18 season. He entered the NBA draft last month, wasn’t invited to the NBA combine and returned to campus for the start of summer classes last week, and those final two items were our strongest and best available indications he’d play his senior season with the Mountaineers.

How he arrived at that conclusion, and namely where he went and who he spoke to along the way, were the things we did not know.

Until now.

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https://twitter.com/Big12Conference/status/866410776482926593

The weekend did not go the way West Virginia’s baseball program wanted. Texas, which is quite good at home, took two out of three games. But WVU didn’t lose any ground in the final standings and finished in fourth place. It’s not where the team was a few weeks ago, but it’s not bad. The Big 12, after all, is the RPI’s top-rated conference. The Mountaineers began and then finished the weekend at No. 20 in the RPI. They’re ranked No. 17 in strength of schedule. Only six teams above them in the RPI played a better schedule.

I have to think winning Saturday’s game was enough to reach a NCAA regional, but there’s more left to do. Baylor, Wednesday’s 10 a.m. EST opponent, is one of the six teams with a better RPI and a stronger schedule. But the Bears dropped two out of three at home against WVU earlier in the season and, for what it’s worth, had a bad weekend at Kansas State, which finished in ninth (last) place and missed the conference tournament. Baylor went 1-2 and only got its win when it erased a nine-run deficit. Then again, that was the last win in a seven-game winning streak. That’s a good ballclub.

So, too, is WVU, and it’s a wonder where they’d be without the tools they’ve developed to reach the cusp of the first NCAA bid since 1996. Quite surprisingly, this is a team that’s embraced technology.

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AP photo -- Jevon Carter will test the NBA Draft waters.

 

It’s not breaking news, because Jevon Carter wasn’t invited to the NBA combine and quietly returned to the classroom with the start of summer classes last week, but it’s definitely good news for West Virginia. The Big 12’s defensive player of the year announced Monday he’ll be back with the Mountaineers for the 2017-18 season.

“I’m excited about coming back to West Virginia and playing with my teammates for my senior season,” Carter said. “The entire NBA process was a great experience for me and to gain valuable feedback that I can use to prepare for the future.”

A native of Maywood, Illinois, Carter led the Mountaineers in scoring at 13.5 points per game and in steals with 92 on the season. Carter was named the NABC Defensive Player of the Year, the Big 12 Conference Defensive Player of the Year, All-Big 12 Conference Second Team and to the All-Big 12 Defensive Team for the third year in a row.

“Jevon went through the process in a systematic and professional manner by exploring his options,” WVU basketball coach Bob Huggins said. “He was able to gain feedback from NBA professionals that will help him in the future. We’re pleased that he will be a Mountaineer for his senior season.”

Raised Ford tough

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The first few bars of this jam are really catchy.

Reverse with a hurdle, but that’s a penalty,
Pick six because he threw it right to the enemy.
End around, broken tackles, made it to the end zone,
Next is a touchdown pass, found his teammate all alone.
Leaves his receiver to get an interception,
Another running play gives defenders apprehension.
Now comes the highlight to make you a believer,
This kid might play here as a wide receiver.

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Friday Feedback

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Welcome to the Friday Feedback, which was on the jorts boat seven summers ago.  (The comments!) I was thinking, and by that I mean obsessing, about what I’m going to write about and what we’re going to talk about in these next few weeks. Then I remembered the high likelihood of postseason baseball, which we’ve never entertained here. (Critical update: Our plan is to use a freelancer.)

It’s a whole new world, I guess, and it’s a quality way to fill some of the gap between now and whatever it is we do during the summer months before the Big 12’s media days more or less end our offseason. I think West Virginia will make a NCAA regional, but I’m not completely confident that’s the case regardless of what happens in this weekend’s three-game series and then at the Big 12 tournament. It is, at the minimum, interesting.

For example, Michael Grove will not pitch this weekend, and if the Mountaineers get swept at Texas, where the Longhorns are 25-7, then they finish in seventh place in the standings and are the No. 7 seed in the eight-team tournament. If that’s followed by an 0-2 — let’s speculate and say that’s a loss to the No. 2 seed Texas Tech and then a loss to maybe the No. 3 Oklahoma or the No. 6 Texas in the elimination game — well, then you’re looking at a team that finished in seventh place and lost five in a row to end the season. It would finish 31-25 overall and, counting the tournament, 11-15 in conference play. The RPI would be in the low 20s and the strength of schedule would be in the same neighborhood.

Certainly, the NCAA could be given pause. Thirty-one automatic bids go to conference champions. Thirty-four at-large invitations are available for the rest of the country.

So this is another big weekend for a team that’s played in, what, four of them already this season? Five? And a lot of these players remember walking off the field after an extra-innings loss to TCU in the Big 12 title game last year optimistic about an at-large bid. They know nothing is guaranteed.

Jackson Sigman is close to being the exception.

A month ago, the sidearm senior was a reliever with a losing record and an ERA two stitches below 8.00. He bottomed out in a weekend series at Kansas State, and in a Sunday outing, he allowed three home runs in 15 pitches. He and pitching coach Derek Matlock went to the lab, changed his stance, lowered his upper body and repositioned his arm. Since then? Darn near lights out: Nine appearances, 19 2/3 innings, three earned runs and eight hits allowed, 23 strikeouts and one home run. He’s pitched in 31 of 51 games, which ranks No. 4 nationally, and he’s at home this weekend.

West Virginia’s final regular-season games are on the road against the University of Texas, and Sigman figures to throw plenty of pitches at Disch-Falk Field, the home of the Longhorns and the place where Sigman, an Austin, Texas, product, threw that fateful pitch.

“Growing up in Austin, that school was a big part of my life,” Sigman said. “Both of my parents are grads. My mom’s still a teacher there. The first time I ever threw sidearm was at that field in a fall game against some other high school team. Looking back on it, I never thought my regular-season career would end there.

“But it’s kind of cool thinking my first outing ever as a sidearm pitcher was there and my last regular-season outing is going to be in my hometown, and my family’s going to be there in the stadium where I started doing this.”

Sigman is the ever-ready reliever who’s made a school-record 31 appearances in 51 games for the Mountaineers (31-20, 11-10 Big 12). He ranks No. 4 nationally in appearances, and he’s 4-4 with a 4.96 ERA and 61 strikeouts and 17 walks in 49 innings.

“He’s so valuable for us,” WVU coach Randy Mazey said, predicting Sigman could pitch five or six more times in the regular season and next weekend’s double-elimination Big 12 tournament. “I’m super proud of the adjustment he made in the middle of this season.”

Onto the Feedback. As always, comments appear as posted. In other words, think things through.

ML said:

Devastating news about Skyler.

I sense sarcasm. I was surprised Howard was waived so quickly. He was there for a rookie mini-camp. Seattle has Russ Wilson and Trevone Boykin, who has some legal problems to deal with, and nobody else. Howard was competing with Friend of the Blog Jake Heaps and Michael Birdsong. Heaps was with the team last season, first cut late in the preseason, later signed to the practice squad and then cut from there. Birdsong was a tryout guy, which is not the same as an undrafted free agent. He didn’t stick, but he did impress. The Seattle Times noted Seahawks coach Pete Carroll “had not sounded too glowing about (Howard’s) performance in the camp, noting that tryout quarterback Michael Birdsong had graded out the best of the three QBs who took part.” But Seattle saw enough of Howard and decided to let him go, and Howard cleared waivers, which makes him a free agent again. By the way, Heaps played at BYU, Kansas and Miami, Birdsong at JMU, Marshall and Tennessee Tech and Howard at Stephen F. Austin (kinda), Riverside City College and WVU. Football never gives up on quarterback prospects. 

And neither does Bruce Irvin.

Raiders v. Seahawks in the last week of the preseason, by the way … 

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