What to watch for as WVU baseball heads to South Carolina

Gold and Blue Nation

West Virginia baseball is staying in the warm weather for a trio of matchups in the CCU Baseball Tournament hosted by Coastal Carolina from Feb. 26-28. The 22/23/27-ranked Mountaineers (2-2) will face Kennesaw State, Coastal Carolina and Bryant in the event after starting the season off with a four-game series against Georgia State last week.

Here’s what you should keep an eye on as the Mountaineers make the trip:

No rankings, but there’s firepower

West Virginia is the highest-ranked — or, only ranked — squad in this tournament, which may make them the favorite on paper, but each team is coming into this one with some strong (albeit small) resumes.

WVU starts off against Kennesaw State (3-1), who started their season off with a four-game series at home against Saint Louis, taking a trio of wins while putting up an average of 4.75 runs. This is driven by cleanup hitter Terence Norman, who leads the team with six hits in 13 at-bats while starting in right field.

Coastal Carolina (2-2) shares the same record as the Mountaineers, although they’ve faced a stronger pair of opponents so far. The Chanticleers opened their season taking a win out of a three-game series against No. 16 Duke, then faced No. 16 Wake Forest on the road on Tuesday and defeated the Demon Deacons 4-1 in extra innings. Like Kennesaw State, CCU had no shortage of runs, even in their losses — racking up 6.25 each contest so far. Their defense has faltered early, however, allowing 11 errors while giving up 39 hits so far.

Bryant (2-1) opened the campaign with a road series at High Point. Jake Gustin is the offensive workhorse with a team-high 12 at-bats from the two-spot, adding four hits. If their first series is any indication of how the Bulldogs will lineup this weekend, the Mountaineers will likely face righty Tyler Schoff, who struck out six batters in his five-inning start against HPU.

Big bats boosted WVU in Atlanta

WVU’s opening weekend wasn’t exactly an offensive showcase, as they logged 4.5 hits and 4.5 runs per game. There were several positives to come out of the batter’s box, however, starting at the top of the lineup.

Transfer Hudson Byorick made a strong debut for WVU in the lead-off spot, logging a team-high five hits for an early batting average of .313. He also put up a pair of doubles in the first two games.

Sophomore first baseman (or, “COVID freshman”) Matt McCormick was back to his past season form at cleanup as he started the season with a pair of homers in the first two games. Throw a double into his stat line, and he leads the team with an OPS of 1.317 and a slugging percentage of .846.

In Sunday’s contest, however, some lesser-known Mountaineers came to the rescue on offense. Dominic Ragazzo made a pair of starts over the weekend, notching four hits (including an RBI triple) in ten at-bats thus far. Freshman second baseman Mikey Kluska also made a strong debut, sending the game-winning run home on Sunday with an RBI bunt.

Shaky starts on the mound

There was some good and some bad on the mound in the first weekend for WVU.

Jackson Wolf started the season off on the rubber, lasting five innings and allowing just one hit and two runs. Things didn’t start off quite as promising, however, as the game started with a walk, hit-by-pitch, and later another walk to send a run home. The preseason All-American found his rhythm as time went on, and allowed just one more unearned run.

Junior transfer Adam Tulloch opened Saturday’s double-header with a 4-inning outing, giving up six hits and three runs in the process. This game, like the first, went into extra innings, but WVU would fall despite a strong showing from the bullpen — five relievers pitched in this one over six innings, allowing seven hits and four runs in the loss. Skylar Gonzalez earned the loss as he finished out the ninth inning and pitched into the extra.

Sophomore Jake Carr struggled in his first start of the season in Saturday’s second contest. Georgia State found its sweet spot against lefty, taking him for 10 earned runs in just 0.2 innings. WVU went through five relievers to get through the game, ultimately falling 20-4.

Sunday’s performance made up for the tough showing a night prior. Tyler Stretchay got his first start and had a good showing, giving up four hits and 2 runs in 4.0 innings. It was the bullpen, however, that really pushed WVU to victory. Ben Hampton stepped in in the fifth inning and manned the mound for 3.0 innings, allowing just one hit and striking out a pair of batters as he earned the win. Zach Ottinger and Jacob Watters closed the game out in the eight and ninth innings without giving up either a hit or a run, while Watters struck out the side to earn the save.

Where to watch

WVU’s CCU Baseball Tournament matchups will take place Friday at 11:30 a.m. against Kennesaw State, Saturday at 3 p.m. against Coastal Carolina and Sunday at 11 a.m. against Bryant. The Saturday matchup is the only contest that can be viewed, and it will be shown on ESPN+.

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