Rivalry becomes washout
CHARLESTON -- Marshall University baseball coach Jeff Waggoner stood just outside the first base dugout as a light rain fell and turned his attention to right field where his team was rolling up the tarp.
Moments earlier, Thundering Herd players pulled the tarp out and covered the infield at Appalachian Power Park, hoping the rain would go away and Wednesday's matchup against in-state rival West Virginia University could be played.
It wasn't meant to be. Rain became more intense, field conditions became unplayable and at about 6 p.m., when the first pitch was scheduled, the game was canceled.
"It's not fun," Waggoner said. "To drive here and not play is a disappointment. We have to turn it into a positive, have a good practice Thursday and get ready for Friday's game."
Both teams have big weekends coming up.
Marshall, 18-24 overall, is 8-12 in Conference USA as it returns to Power Park to take on conference newcomer Louisiana Tech (14-27, 4-17) in a three-game series. Game times Friday and Saturday are 7 p.m. The finale Sunday begins at 11 a.m. The Bulldogs are in the cellar in C-USA. Marshall is 10th while FIU and Middle Tennessee share eighth at 11-10 each. The top eight teams after the regular season advance to the C-USA Tournament, May 21-25, in Hattiesburg, Miss.
"You can't control Mother Nature," Waggoner said. "Both schools were looking to play in front of the state of West Virginia. We've got to look forward now to a big weekend and conference. They've got Texas, we've got Louisiana Tech. We've both got to finish strong in our conference."
West Virginia (24-16, 7-7 Big 12) takes on Texas (32-13, 10-8) in the final home series at Hawley Field in Morgantown before the Mountaineers open a new facility next year. The Longhorns come in ranked as high as ninth (USA Today Coaches Poll). First pitch Friday is 6 p.m. Saturday's game begins at 4 p.m. and the Sunday wrapup starts at 1 p.m.
Mountaineers' coach Randy Mazey also tried to find the positive in the washout. The Mountaineers, who had three-hour bus rides up and down Interstate 79, are on a six-game winning streak.
"One thing you don't ever want to do is get the guys dressed, get on the bus, come here and not play," Mazey said. "We took them out of final exams. The guys are used to it. It's disappointing any time you don't play. We'll recover, practice tomorrow and get ready for the weekend.
"We want to keep our hitters focused. When you swing the bats well like we are, you want to play every day. We did get to hit a little in the cages. Hopefully we can stay on track."
Hawley Field, named after former WVU athletic director Roy "Legs" Hawley, has been home to WVU baseball for 43 years. Next season, the Mountaineers will in a new $21 million stadium that being built at University Town Centre. Hawley's son, Bill, will throw out the ceremonial first pitch Sunday.
Texas has one of the most successful baseball programs in NCAA history. The Longhorns have won six NCAA championships and appeared in the College World Series 34 times.
"The Longhorns, one of the most stories programs in the country, at Hawley for the final three. There's quite the buzz," Mazey said. "To have Texas come for the last series at Hawley, you couldn't script a better story. It'll be an emotional weekend for a lot of people. A lot of former players are coming back. They'll be on that field for the last time. There's sure to be tears in their eyes."
West Virginia's last NCAA Tournament appearance came in 1996. Mazey knows a good weekend would enhance WVU's chances for the postseason as well as Big 12 Tournament.
"We do talk about it some," Mazey said of making the postseason. "You can't ignore it with the social media and internet out there. There are regional projections. There's no use ignoring it. The context is the importance of playing every pitch of every game. Look too far into the future and you lose sight of what's right in front of you.
"Along with progress comes change (new facility). Everybody does it. You can't make progress without changes. This (stadium) is one of them. This is a big moment in the future of WVU baseball."
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