Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Sports column

May 9, 2014

Fun night at Hunnicutt for WVU, Virginia Tech

BLUEFIELD — Even Pat Mason was impressed by the turnout for Tuesday’s night’s Virginia Tech and West Virginia baseball game at Hunnicutt Field.

Despite having to endure another one-run loss, a 4-3 decision to West Virginia, Mason still found time to speak positively about the crowd that watched the Hokies drop their 11th decision in 12 games, with five of those coming by one run and two others by two.

“It was great, no doubt, this was real fun, especially for a Tuesday night,”  said Mason, Virginia Tech’s first-year head coach. “This is like a Friday night ACC crowd, no doubt, this is what you get on a Friday night.

“I don’t know what the attendance is, but a full crowd, a full house with some noise, passionate fans, it was good. If you can’t get yourself ready to play in this atmosphere, then you shouldn’t be playing the game.”

Both teams appeared ready to play, spurred on by a rare sight in Princeton, a sellout baseball crowd of 2,084 filling not only the Hunnicutt Field bleachers, but also the rarely-needed standing room areas along the fences down both the right and left field lines.

Believe me, it was noticed, especially by the Mountaineers, who expected more Virginia Tech fans since Blacksburg is just an hour away. It didn’t appear to happen that way.

“We saw it was sold out and honestly we thought there was going to be a lot more Virginia Tech fans here based on the proximity that it is to their school, but we came in here and it was flooded with blue and gold,” West Virginia senior closer Sean Carley said. “There is no better feeling. Obviously the fans were out here rooting for us...It was huge and we can’t thank them enough.”

“I was kind of surprised,” added West Virginia head coach Randy Mazey. “A lot of people told me it would be a predominantly Hokie crowd, but I don’t think that was the case.”

Chants of “Let’s Go Mountaineers” could be heard coming from the crowd, while “Country Roads” was played after the final out was made. It was the eighth largest crowd to ever see what was a West Virginia ‘home’ game.

“The support was great,” said West Virginia starting pitcher Corey Walter, who was the losing pitcher the last time these clubs met in 2012. “I heard it was sold out when before we got down here, it was awesome to see everyone come out....

“I played them once before in Myrtle Beach when I actually started too and I got a loss in that one so I had to come out and at least try to get a win tonight.”

Carley, whose conversion to closer helped the Mountaineers get on its current 11-2 streak — after an 0-7 losing skid — hustled in from the bullpen in the ninth, and shut down the Hokies to secure the win.

“It was awesome, especially when I am running out there and we all get pumped up, ‘Kenny Powers is coming in’, that is a pretty cool feeling,” said Carley, recalling the fictional character that was part of the HBO series Eastbound and Down.

“I can’t thank them enough for the way they turned out today. To get to play in front of them and with all the fans that we have got, and all the fan support, obviously we are blessed to get a win out here and I can’t thank them enough.”  

One year ago, it was Virginia Tech (20-28) that was having a stellar season, finishing with a 40-22 record, and serving as a regional host site for an NCAA tournament.

While the Hokies, which did rebound with a 12-3 win over Northeastern on Wednesday, will have no such ending this season, the Mountaineers (27-17) have lost just twice since April 15, making their case for inclusion in the NCAAs next month.

“You always want to play your best baseball in May and June and I think we are doing that right now,” Mazey said. “You have got to live through some hard times on your way to doing that.

“With us being a northern school and not getting to practice outside those first 20 games that we play, it is a feeling out process of settling on a lineup and pitching rotation and pitching roles. Once we hit the halfway point I thought we started clicking pretty good.

“We have got a good team, it just takes a little time to get in the groove.”

They seem to be there, but there is still baseball to play. The Mountaineers will visit Kansas this weekend and will conclude the regular season next weekend at Texas Tech. There is also a mid-week game against Maryland, all of which are important games for West Virginia, which will be followed by the Big12 tournament.

“These mid-week games are big,” said Walter, who was the winning pitcher in a mid-week win over Marshall last month. “We have got Maryland next week and their RPI is pretty high so these games are real important for us to keep our momentum going into the weekend and I think we are doing a pretty good job just coming out and getting these wins.”

“We have got good pitching right now and our hitting is very timely,” added senior Jacob Rice, who drove in a pair of game-tying runs.   

Mazey, who felt like Virginia Tech represented a ‘trap’ game for the Mountaineers, noticed his club initially appeared like a tired team, playing on the road for the first time since April 19.

“I thought we were a little bit tired tonight, but on the positive side, this is a team that is learning how to win in the last two innings and that is what championship teams do,” Mazey said.

“Even if you are a little bit low energy and tired when the game starts, you find a way to win at the end.”

Virginia Tech, which still has home game next week with William & Mary and N.C. State, helped the Mountaineers, having runners thrown out at home in the first and second innings, and Walter picked a runner off first base to erase a first and third, one-out situation, also in the second.  

“I was definitely struggling early, I couldn’t really find the zone,” Walter said. “Virginia Tech kind of helped me out and put some balls in play when I was struggling and the defense was making plays behind me.

“They stopped at least two runs at home plate that were big so that definitely helped me out.”

West Virginia fell behind 1-0, 2-1 and 3-2, but refused to fold, rallying to tie the score three times, eventually scoring the winning run in a two-run eighth when pinch-hitter Justin Fox hustled down the line to prevent an potential inning-ending double play to score Ryan McBroom from third.

In came the 6-foot-4, 250-pound Carley, who actually has a resemblance to Powers. He was initially hesitant to move from weekend starter to closer, but seems to be fine with it now, especially if it helps the Mountaineers win games.

“We got swept two weekends in a row in conference and we kind of put ourselves in a position where every game matters,” Carley said. “We are playing game by game and we have got to win each game one at a time.  

“Obviously if we are in position to win the game, I am coming in in the ninth and I like our chances.”

So does Mazey, whose Mountaineers had to play without speedy leadoff batter Bobby Boyd, who is expected to play this weekend at Kansas.

“He is an aggressive kid so that role suits his personality a lot better than a starter does,” Mazey said.

“He already proved to everybody that he can be a good starter so we flipped him to the back end and it really changed the complexion of our team.”

Some players, such as West Virginia born Walter, knew of the Virginia Tech-West Virginia rivalry, while Rice got his first chance to experience the Hokies and Mountaineers in a different kind of setting.

“Being from Oklahoma I am not really familiar with the southern part of West Virginia,” Rice said. “The drive up was really pretty and seeing all the fans here in the southern part of the state to support us, it is pretty fun to play in front of a crowd like that.”

Look for a similar crowd when — not if — these clubs meet again in 2015, perhaps in Princeton once again.

That would be fine with all who were in attendance, even Mason, win or lose.

“We will discuss it in the offseason,” Mason said. “It seems like a no-brainer to me.”

—Brian Woodson is the sports editor for the Daily Telegraph.     He can be contact at bwoodson@bdtonline.com or Twitter @bdtwoodson.

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