From worst to first
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginia University's Cinderella baseball team had quite an opportunity on Sunday at Charleston's Appalachian Power Park.
The Mountaineers had a chance to jump into a tie for first place in the Big 12 by winning a series over No. 10 Oklahoma.
They found a way - on the strength of a Means.
Starting WVU pitcher John Means gave up 11 hits to the now 34-14 Sooners, but only two runs in six innings of work to push his team to a 9-6 victory before 1,843 on a windy day.
The win moved the Mountaineers to a 29-20 overall record, but, perhaps more importantly, an 11-7 conference mark. That puts West Virginia, picked last in preseason league voting, in a tie for first with Oklahoma and Kansas State.
"Taking two from Oklahoma is always big," said WVU first baseman Ryan McBroom. "They're always at the top of the conference, but we came out and played right with them."
WVU's surprising season has placed Mountaineer coach Randy Mazey squarely in line for league coach-of-the-year honors.
"We knew what we were getting into," McBroom said. "But we prepared before the season. The coaches did a good job."
After falling to OU on Friday, WVU rebounded on Saturday for its first win over a Top 10 team since 1999, when it defeated Ohio State. On Sunday, WVU staked Oklahoma two first-inning runs, rallied for five in the second and held on late for the win. The Sooners scored four two-out eighth-inning runs.
The Mountaineers scored their nine runs on 11 hits, while OU had six on 16.
"We've been seeing it pretty good lately," Mazey said. "We had so much to play for. Once it was determined we were a championship team, we knew we couldn't take games off."
McBroom, a junior first baseman from Fredericksburg, Va., had a huge day for the victors. In that second inning, he pushed across two runs with a double. Then, in the sixth inning, McBroom belted his 10th homer of the season to left field, which made the score 8-2.
"It was a fastball," McBroom said. "I was looking for something hard to hit."
WVU had the bases loaded in the first inning with no outs - but came away with just one run. In the second, the scenario surfaced again. This time, though, the Mountaineers cashed in. Aside from McBroom, left fielder Jacob Rice pushed across two with a single to center.
Oklahoma shortstop Jack Mayfield, who went 5 for 5 with three RBIs, sparked a Sooner rally in the eighth, closing the gap to 8-6. WVU, though, received an insurance run in the bottom of the inning when McBroom's sacrifice pushed across Brady Wilson to account for the final numbers.
Mazey, surrounded by his batboy and son "Wammer," reflected on his first season at WVU.
"When I got here, all I knew was what I could get off last season's stat sheet," Mazey said. "There wasn't much good there, so it was hard to expect much out of these guys. But when I got to know them and how hard they work, this isn't surprising."
"Our expectations now are through the roof," said Means, a sophomore lefty. "Our first goal was to make the tournament. We have that. Then we wanted to finish in the middle of the pack. We're in first."
The Mountaineers will play again in Charleston next weekend against TCU, which was 23-24 on Sunday.
Reach Mitch Vingle at 304-348-4827, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/MitchVingle.