Coming into this weekend’s series against Kansas State, West Virginia knew things needed to change.
It came in with the fewest wins in the Big 12 against conference opponents (two). Those two wins were tied with Kansas State for the fewest in the conference. Those two wins also coincided with seven losses in conference play, meaning it took just one game from Texas Tech and Oklahoma State while being swept by Oklahoma on the road.
A series win could point WVU in the right direction, and that’s exactly what it got.
Behind a late rally Friday, WVU earned an 8-5 victory over the Wildcats. Then, behind a shutout effort from starting pitcher Kade Strowd and the bullpen and 12 hits from the offense, the Mountaineers earned the 6-0 win Saturday, securing their first Big 12 series of the season before falling short of the sweep Sunday.
"It’s definitely big time," said WVU redshirt sophomore first baseman Marques Inman. "We definitely needed this. Coming into the series we knew how crucial this series was. It’s cool to have a series win under our belt."
WVU had a solid resume up to this point, certainly in terms of RPI. Its RPI is No. 30 nationally, which puts it in the NCAA Tournament field of 64 teams by that No. 30 mark alone. Along with that impressive RPI ranking, it has played the toughest schedule in all of college baseball.
Those are difficult numbers to argue. But there were also other difficult numbers to argue, and although they can still be argued and debated right now, it is tougher to discredit WVU after what it accomplished this weekend.
The Mountaineers were just 17-17 overall and 2-7 in the Big 12 before Friday. Those records would not wow the NCAA Tournament committee, especially since only four teams last year with records of .500 or below made it into the 64-team field, and all four of those teams came from lesser conferences that had to win their respective conference tournaments to get in.
They understood those numbers required improvements. A sub-.500 record will not make you stand out in terms of the postseason.
Kansas State is not the cream of the crop, but a win is still a win. Kansas State might be just 2-12 in the Big 12, which puts it in dead last in the conference standings, but the numbers saw positive alterations.
Now, the Mountaineers are 19-18 overall and 4-8 in the Big 12. Those numbers are not great by many standards; however, they are more helpful when it comes to the postseason. If you can finish anywhere near .500 in conference play in the Big 12, which is rated as the No. 2 RPI conference in the country, then your odds of making it are far better.
"It gives us a lot of momentum going into the rest of the season, back half," said WVU redshirt sophomore catcher/designated hitter Chase Illig. "It’s just what we needed at the right time."
If this series win can propel WVU into more victories down the road, then it likely will not need to worry come Selection Monday. It has already played three of the top four teams in the Big 12 — Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech.
There is still a big series looming against Texas in Morgantown next weekend. If WVU takes at least two of three from the Longhorns — who are in second place — and more teams remaining on the schedule, then there is even less to worry about.
"It’s unbelievable," said WVU sophomore pitcher Kade Strowd. "That’s a big time win. We’ve played all the best teams in the Big 12. It’s time to go out there and start winning every series we play now."