Since joining the Big 12 Conference, Oklahoma City has been a home away from home for WVU baseball.
Local baseball fans have embraced Randy Mazey’s Mountaineers since they joined the league in 2013. That season, Mazey’s team assisted relief efforts in Oklahoma following a tornado that delayed the start of the tournament, something fans in the area have not forgotten.
In more recent seasons, the Mountaineers have enjoyed success on the diamond, reaching the semifinals in each of the last four tournaments and advancing to the championship game twice in that same span.
But when the 2021 Big 12 Championship begins Tuesday, Mazey and the Mountaineers will find themselves in completely new territory: they’ll be the No. 8 seed for the first time, and they’ll compete in the tournament’s first-ever single elimination play-in game.
After finishing the regular season with a disappointing 23-25 overall record (8-16 Big 12), can WVU put together an improbable run and continue that streak of semifinal appearances? History indicates that it could happen.
No. 8 seeds at the Big 12 Tournament
It’s not often that a No. 8 seed finds success at the Big 12 Championship, but over the last decade, two teams have shocked the conference by making Cinderella runs.
Twice has a No. 8 seed advanced to the championship game: Missouri did so in 2011, while Oklahoma State accomplished the feat in 2017. The Cowboys are the only No. 8 to ever win the title. They beat West Virginia twice during their 2017 run, and then beat Texas 6-5 to take the crown.
Somewhat surprisingly, No. 8 seeds in the tournament own a better record all-time (26-37) than No. 7 seeds (25-39). But in 15 of the 21 tournaments since 1999, the No. 8 seed has been eliminated quickly, being swept five times and going 1-2 in the other 10.
A No. 8 seed has won two or more games in just six tournaments since 1999.
Of course, none of those No. 8 seeds were in the same position as this year’s WVU team, as the Mountaineers will appear in the tournament’s first play-in game.
The Mountaineers have had mixed results as an underdog in the tournament. They’ve most commonly qualified as a No. 4 seed, opening three of the last four tournaments in that position.
WVU has never been a No. 8 seed in this competition, but it has been a No. 7 seed twice. The Mountaineers were swept in 2015, losing to Oklahoma State and Oklahoma, but in 2018, they reached the semifinals from the seven-spot.
West Virginia was also the No. 6 seed in the 2014 tournament, defeating Kansas for its lone win of that postseason.
Jayhawk hunting in OKC
West Virginia and Kansas have met just three times in Big 12 Championship history.
The first clash was in 2013, West Virginia’s first season in the Big 12. The 2013 Moore Tornado delayed the start of the that tournament and forced the Big 12 to adjust the tournament’s format from a double-elimination bracket to a round robin competition. Kansas defeated WVU in round robin play, and later advanced to the championship game, where it lost to Oklahoma.
WVU has won the other two postseason meetings between the two programs. It exacted revenge the following season, beating KU 10-9 as a No. 6 seed in the first round, and then earned another first round victory over the Jayhawks in 2019. WVU won that contest 12-8, kicking off its run to the finals.
Mazey’s teams have found ways to win in OKC.
The former Big 12 Coach of the Year is 13-12 all-time in Big 12 Tournament games. He has led the Mountaineers to the finals in two of the last four tournaments, and on both occasions, the Mountaineers upset the top seed in the field along the way.
In 2016, No. 4 West Virginia reached the championship game after upsetting top-seed Texas Tech 9-4 in the second round. WVU later lost to No. 3 TCU 11-10 in the title game.
Then in 2019, the Mountaineers again upset No. 1 Texas Tech, beating the Red Raiders twice before losing to No. 3 Oklahoma State 5-2 in the finals.
Should West Virginia beat Kansas in Tuesday’s play-in game, it will take on league champion and top-seed Texas the following day. The Mountaineers defeated the Longhorns Thursday, but lost in Austin Friday and Saturday.
WVU will open the 2021 tournament Tuesday at 7 p.m. ET against Kansas.