The momentum in West Virginia’s Big 12 Conference championship game against Oklahoma State changed in the fifth inning.
After jumping out to a 1-0 lead in the third and three strong innings from starting pitcher Nick Snyder, WVU’s impenetrable defensive wall that shutout Texas Tech in the semifinals was cracked.
With the bases loaded, reliever Zach Reid issued a walk to Colin Simpson, tying the score. He then surrendered a two-run double to Andrew Navigato, and Oklahoma State cruised to a 5-2 victory from there.
Skipper Randy Mazey said he went to the bullpen early in order to preserve Snyder, who pitched on short rest, for the NCAA tournament.
“If we didn’t have another weekend to play, if we weren’t fighting to host a regional, we could leave [Sndyer] in there for the whole game,” said Mazey. “We took him out just when he usually starts getting good.”
The Mountaineers collected eight hits in the game — including seven off OSU starter Brett Standlee — but they had trouble stringing them together.
The Mountaineers scored first in the third inning, as T.J. Lake advanced home on a Brandon White double play ball. They didn’t score again until the ninth, when they faced a four-run deficit with just three outs remaining.
Oklahoma State turned a critical double play in the eighth to squash a brewing WVU comeback. At the time, the Mountaineers only trailed 3-1. But after that double play, the Cowboys added two more runs in the bottom of the eighth, before finishing the job an inning later.
“We had out opportunities, you know,” said Mazey. “Had guys on base and hit into a couple double plays. Hit the ball hard, it just goes right to them. If those balls go between them, it’s a whole different game.”
WVU was also retired in order in the fourth and sixth innings.
Mazey said WVU prides itself on the way it conditions and rests its athletes, but infielder Tyler Doanes called the tournament format “a grind.” Both finalists played five games in five days.
“I think it was absolutely a grind for all of us — Texas Tech included, Oklahoma State — but it really gets you ready for this upcoming week for the regional, and hopefully we do get to play at home,” said Doanes.
Four Mountaineers made the all-tournament team, including Doanes, center fielder Brandon White and pitchers Alek Manoah and Ryan Bergert.
West Virginia finishes as the runner-up at the Big 12 tournament for the second time in four years, as an elusive title evades it once again. WVU has not won a conference tournament since it claimed the Big East title in 1996.
The Mountaineers are heading to an NCAA regional, and they’ll learn if they are one of 16 host teams later tonight.
“We wanted to win the championship, came up just short of that goal, but hosting a regional hopefully, that’s a great advantage for the Mountaineers, playing back in Morgantown,” said Snyder. “But at the end of the day, we’re not gonna hang our heads. We’re gonna get back, we’re gonna practice hard and we’re gonna get ready for the weekend coming up.”
Regional pairings will be released Monday afternoon.