So, What’s Next For WVU Baseball?
By Bob Hertzel
West Virginia, a team that has overcome so much hardship to erase more than two decades of frustration, is in the NCAA baseball tournament.
But what do the Mountaineers do for an encore?
Is the season a success no matter what or is there mounting pressure, day by day, to take it further, win in Winston-Salem and get to a Super Regional, maybe even one in their own home park with 6,000 fans there to root them on?
Jackson Cramer is the senior first baseman who was here through the early days when they were moving into the Big 12. He’s seen the growth of the team, the maturity that came with it and the increased expectations.
Well, where are those expectations now that they are in the post-season?
“I feel like a lot of people might think we’ll be putting pressure on ourselves now that we’re in, but for us, I feel like a lot of the pressure has been taken off,” Cramer said. “We can play and have fun, and that’s when we play our best, just like we did last year at the end of the season when we had nothing to lose. I feel like where we’re at now, we can just go out and have fun and good things will happen.”
The truth is, this is a team that has that something extra that carries it through the rough times.
Think about what they went through. A year ago they were nowhere, not a chance on earth of making the NCAA Tournament, about a .500 team that had some really bad losses when they suddenly realized that, as Cramer put it, they had nothing to lose.
So they won.
They won 17 of their final 21 games, they reached the finals of the Big 12 Tournament, blew a late lead against TCU, one of the nation’s best teams, went to extra innings before being finally eliminated.
They should have gone to the NCAAs, but the selection committee had them in the first four teams out.
They could have sulked over it and come back figuring it would never happen, but instead they took it as a challenge, an inspiration for a new year.
They had a strong team with big-time pitching … and then Conner Dotson, a veteran weekend starter who last season was their top winner, broke his arm while warming up for a game, crumpling to the ground.
“The toughest thing was Dotson throwing a pitch and breaking his arm, to see him teammates gather around him while he was on the ground,” WVU manager Randy Mazey admitted.
It was enough to make you cry, as was the day Michael Grove, the team’s best pitcher, owner of a perfect game he had taken into the eighth inning that wound up a one-hitter, suffering a forearm strain that was serious enough to end his season … at least, for now.
If it weren’t for bad luck, WVU would have had no luck at all.
“This was the hardest, most difficult but rewarding and satisfying year … all at the same time,” Mazey admitted.
But it didn’t matter.
“We tell them next man up,” Mazey said. “Seems like every time we say it, the kids listen to us.”
Alek Manoah and Isaiah Kearns were freshmen who answered the emergency call, easing the pain of losing two starters with Kearns even stepping up and hitting a key pinch-hit home run in the Big 12 Tournament.
Huge victories over TCU and Texas Tech, the Nos. 5 and 6 national seeds in the tournament, took the program to the next level.
“It was a major stepping stone for us to get the first at large bid in 125 years of WVU baseball. The next step is when they bring a regional or super regional here. That changes the program in the community,” Mazey said.
Now you know what’s next.