West Virginia enters the weekend with little hope of winning the Big 12 title.
And that's not a bad thing.
Far from it.
The Mountaineers were the unanimous pick to finish last in the league following a preseason poll of the coaches. Yet here they are, at 30-23 overall and 12-9 in the conference, still in the Big 12 title chase in their debut season.
And if things go just right this weekend — if Oklahoma wins two or three at first place Kansas State and the Mountaineers sweep Oklahoma State in Stillwater — West Virginia will claim a share of the most unlikely baseball championship in the history of the conference.
“We were basically playing with the house's money for the first half of the season,” said WVU coach Randy Mazey. “Then when people started seeing West Virginia on their schedule, surrounded by Texas or Oklahoma or TCU or Oklahoma State, I think they naturally were feeling a little bit of a letdown, thinking like it might be a little easier weekend than the others.
“And that's exactly what we were hoping for, by being picked to finish last.”
At some point, though, the Mountaineers commanded the rest of the league's attention.
And they've continued to win, taking three of their last four conference series, putting themselves in position to contend for the Big 12 title, as well as an NCAA Tournament berth.
Not bad for a team in a new (and improved) league with a first-year coach in Mazey. For a program coming off a losing season and with its last postseason berth dating back 17 years. For a team displaced from its home ballpark while renovations take place. For at team facing rugged travel itineraries into foreign destinations.
“We went into this season expecting a lot of adversity with our travel issues, how tough it was going to be academically on our kids, being on the road so much,” Mazey said. “We prepared them for the adversity and being picked to finish last.”