WVU set to face toughest challenge of the year in TCU

Patrick Kotnik, Staff Writer
WV Sports

A critical three-game home series against the reigning Big 12 champions, TCU, awaits West Virginia this weekend.

The Mountaineers (19-12, 6-3) are coming off a 7-6 loss to No. 21 Maryland this past Tuesday in College Park, a game in which West Virginia surrendered a four-run lead thanks to a five-run seventh inning by the Terrapins which gave the Mountaineers their first losing streak since early March.

Despite the two-game losing streak, West Virginia comes into this weekend’s series winners of its last four series including three against Big 12 opponents.

On the other side, TCU (27-5, 8-1) comes into this weekend ranked No. 2 in the nation and riding a 13-game win streak.

West Virginia has not fared well against the Horned Frogs since joining the Big 12. The Mountaineers currently hold a 2-13 record against TCU since joining the conference and have lost their last 11 matchups against the Horned Frogs.

The last meeting between these two teams came in a memorable Big 12 Championship game.

West Virginia rallied from an 8-0 deficit to take a 10-9 lead in the ninth inning, but then back-to-back singles in the ninth by TCU tied the game up and a home run by All-American Luken Baker in the 10th denied the Mountaineers their first NCAA Tournament berth since 1996.

For the Mountaineers, this series is arguably the most important one of the regular season when you consider what’s at stake.

What’s at stake is a chance to boost the team’s resume and make the case for an NCAA Tournament berth.

The message coming into this season for West Virginia was the phrase, “we’re on a mission.” That meaning the team is on a mission to prove that their one of the best teams in the country and to get the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 21 years.

So far this season, the Mountaineers have backed up that phrase, going 6-3 against top-25 teams, including two wins over the defending national champions, Coastal Carolina. The team also ranks 14th in RPI.

One thing West Virginia cannot afford to do is get swept by the Horned Frogs. A sweep would mean a five-game losing streak for the Mountaineers, no momentum and a drop in the RPI.

On the mound, junior right-hander BJ Myers will start Friday, followed sophomore righty Michael Grove on Saturday and Sunday’s starter has yet to be determined.

The team has weekend starters in Myers and Grove. Myers went the distance last Friday against Kansas and Grove had a perfect game up until the eighth inning last Saturday, but there’s a void left to be field in the Sunday starting spot.

Junior Connor Dotson was the Sunday starter, but his season ended after he broke his arm warming up in the bullpen prior to a Sunday matchup against Oklahoma State.

Freshman Kade Strowd took over the Sunday role for Dotson, but has struggled some in his past two appearances

It’s likely that right-handers Alek Manoah or Isaiah Kearns will takeover that Sunday spot this weekend. Both are freshmen who have had some solid pitching performances during the week. The bullpen will have to step up its game as well following Maryland’s comeback win.

West Virginia’s pitchers this weekend will have to face a solid group of hitters led by junior Austen Wade and Baker.

Wade leads the team with a .339 average, 42 hits and a .492 slugging percentage. He is second with 26 RBIs behind Baker, who has 33 hits and is batting average over .300.

On the mound, TCU is led by Friday starter Jared Janczak, who leads the team with a 1.79 ERA, a 6-0 record and 57 strikeouts in 55.1 innings pitched. He is aided by redshirt freshman relief pitcher Austin Boyles, who owns a 0.87 ERA in eight appearances, with 17 strikeouts.

Tonight first pitch will be thrown at 6:30 p.m. Saturday’s game is scheduled to start at 4 p.m. and Sunday’s series finale features a noon start time. All games will be played at the Monongalia County Ballpark.

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